23/07/2018 - 11:26

Getting creative on firm funds footing

23/07/2018 - 11:26


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The financial performance of WA’s major arts organisations has fluctuated widely over the past year, research by Business News has found.

Getting creative on firm funds footing
Helen Hristofski says 2017 was a very successful year for Barking Gecko. Photo: Gabriel Oliviera

The financial performance of WA’s major arts organisations has fluctuated widely over the past year, research by Business News has found.

Securing ongoing funding streams is a challenge faced by all arts and culture organisations, particularly in a state such as Western Australia with its often-wild economic fluctuations.

So with the state economy making tentative steps towards recovery after several years in the doldrums, it’s perhaps encouraging to see the latest revenue data compiled by Business News, which suggests the major arts bodies have largely managed to maintain revenue and in some cases grow.

(Click to see a full PDF version of this special report)

The BNiQ Search Engine’s arts and culture list shows the annual combined revenue of the top 10 arts organisations has increased by $1 million, to $169 million, compared with the previous reported figures for those same organisations.


Screenwest, which last year transitioned from a government entity to an independent not-for-profit organisation, experienced the largest revenue rise of the top 10 arts and culture organisations on the BNiQ list.

Its total revenue increased 50.3 per cent to $21.7 million in the 2016-17 financial year.

Screenwest told Business News the growth was predominately attributable to the $16 million Western Australian Regional Film Fund introduced on July 1 2016, which would be distributed to Screenwest across four years through the Royalties for Regions program.

Funding from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries remained in line with previous years at $7.5 million.

Chair Janelle Marr said Screenwest was the first screen organisation in Australia to move from a government entity to an independent organisation.

“The new structure of Screenwest provides an unprecedented opportunity to venture into business development and provides agility for new partnerships,” she said.

Screenwest has already picked up additional funding from new sources and partnerships, including the management of content on the Yagan Square and Digital Towers and LED Canopies in the heart of Perth.”

A highlight for Screenwest in terms of film operations has been Tim Winton’s Breath, directed by Simon Baker, which completed its run around Australia with approximately $4.4 million in box office sales.

Artrage, which produces Perth’s Fringe World festival, came in at number three on the list, lifting operating revenue from $16.1 million to $17 million in the period to June 2018.

The not-for-profit organisation is headed by chief executive Marcus Canning and has 12 staff in WA.

Arts organisation FORM was the only player to fall from the top 10 since last year, having dropped from ninth to 11th place, with West Australian Opera directly exchanging places on the list.

FORM’s revenue for the year to December 2017 dropped by 36 per cent to $5.8 million against 2016 figures, largely due to a decline in private grants, sponsorships and donations.

Executive director Lynda Dorrington said FORM’s modus operandi was to: take on large projects that involved concept development; raise funding; and work to deliver the outcome – a process that resulted in an ebb and flow of funding.

“Silos in the regions, Field of Light in Albany or the delivery of a new festival in the metropolitan area all have different demands; it’s the nature of our programming,” she said.

Museum influence

In a direct comparison of figures for the 2017 and 2018 top 10 organisations on the Business News list, the collective revenue is down by 1.8 per cent against that of the previous year’s top 10, with operating revenue down by 1.5 per cent.

The WA Museum accounted for some of that overall decline, having been closed due to constructions as it builds towards the 2020 New Museum.

Its total revenue was down by 15.7 per cent to $31.7 million (year to June 2017).

Of this, $5.8 million was generated by the museum from commercial activity and from public, private and charitable sources – a decrease of 36.3 per cent on last year’s figure of $9.1 million.

In addition to the temporary closure of the Perth site, the WA Museum said visitor numbers to the Maritime Museum were below expectations, while there was a cut to its research grant revenue as resources were diverted to the New Museum project.

Aiming high

The revenue picture changes somewhat when viewed across the top 20 arts and culture organisations on the BNiQ list, with total revenue declining 1.1 per cent to $2 billion while operating revenue essentially remained the same.

Barking Gecko Theatre was top performer in terms of total revenue, climbing from 24th on the list in the previous period to 17th with a 27.4 per cent increase to $1.6 million.

Chief executive Helen Hristofski told Business News 2017 was a very successful year for Barking Gecko, with company reserves reaching 30 per cent of its turnover for the first time.

“We’ve been adept at implementing nimble and innovative business approaches to deliver our theatre productions and new creative learning programs,” Ms Hristofski told Business News.

“This, in turn, saw modest increases in state and federal funding, sponsorship and philanthropic support, box office and children’s workshop participation, and the on-selling of productions to national and international presenters after their world premiere seasons at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia.

“BGT has been successful in securing some additional grants to enable us to build and rehearse new productions, and we collaborate beautifully with the Perth Festival on a regular basis.”

Ms Hristofski said its development partner Woodside Petroleum was key to its growth, having provided an investment in Barking Gecko that had allowed it to develop a long-term strategy.

“For example, in October this year we will premiere our next significant theatre work, which has taken three years to realise,” she said.

Barking Gecko has won five prestigious Helpmann Awards over the past five years, including Best Children’s Presentation for Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories, awarded in 2016.

Perth Symphony Orchestra has climbed several places on the BNiQ list, from 25th to 22nd place.

PSO has performed 68 times during the past year with just three full-time staff and a fourth joining in March this year; of those performances, all contemporary music concerts sold out.

Executive director Bourby Webster told Business News PSO’s biggest show brought in about $100,000 and much effort and strategising was needed to keep costs down.

“There have been some really meaningful projects, particularly the one we did for the Western Australian of the Year Awards, where we brought together classical musicians with musicians from around the world that call WA home – Aboriginal, Irish, Iranian, Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, Australian, English – it was simply magical,” Ms Webster said.

PSO’s operational income was about $1 million for the 2017-18 financial year with turnover just above $1.4 million, making it the top arts company without government funding on the BNiQ list, and the top company when ranked by operational income as a percentage of turnover.

International reach

Theatre group The Last Great Hunt is in its fifth year of operations and steadily increasing its reach across Australia and overseas.

Manager Sian Roberts told Business News international touring made up 40 per cent of The Last Great Hunt’s income, and it had grown its revenue by 46 per cent since 2015.

“Internationally, our most successful box office event last year was Bruce at Edinburgh Fringe,” Ms Roberts said.

“Bruce is a talking sponge, he’s a brilliant character. It’s the perfect Fringe show.

The sellout crowds poured in for 27 performances, it was a lot of fun,” she said.

“The most suitable work has the opportunity to go out to arts markets, and potentially to tour regionally, nationally, or internationally.”


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