03/04/2007 - 22:00

Performing arts funds fight

03/04/2007 - 22:00


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Western Australia’s three major performing arts organisations have experienced bumper seasons and sell-out crowds in the past few years.

Western Australia’s three major performing arts organisations have experienced bumper seasons and sell-out crowds in the past few years.


However, the ability of the West Australian Ballet, WA Opera and WA Symphony Orchestra to expand what they offer is constrained by funding, with the organisations increasingly reliant on corporate investment because of government restraints.


For WASO, prioritising corporate partnerships has delivered results, with this income stream growing from less than $500,000 to $3 million per year since 2000.


WASO chief executive officer Keith Venning said the organisation had worked hard at servicing its corporate partnerships, which included long-term relationships with Emirates and Wesfarmers. 


“We must enhance our relationship with the community and the business sector. I think more and more, arts organisations like us for the future will have to rely on support from commercial enterprise,” he said.


WASO employs about 30 full-time and part-time staff, in addition to its 85 musicians, and has an annual turnover of almost $16 million, which is nearly twice that of the WA Ballet and WA Opera combined.


Mr Venning said relying on corporate partnerships was potentially unstable, with funding partly determined by the economic environment.


“WA is going through a boom period at the moment. We need to be mindful of what happens in the future,” he said.


West Australian Ballet general manager Steven Roth agrees corporate sponsorship is becoming increasingly important.


“The government has put in place the expectation that all companies will secure as much corporate sponsorship as possible, as well as philanthropic gifts,” he said. “With that comes the need to service sponsors and be very professional in the way you run the business.”


Mr Roth said obtaining corporate sponsorship was a catch-22 situation.


“You need the money to be able to employ the extra staff to service a sponsor, but you’ve got to get the sponsor first, to afford the staff,” he said.


“Larger arts companies have big teams working in their corporate sponsorship division, both securing and finding new sponsorships, and servicing them. Smaller companies usually have just one person able to do it, and it’s a very, very competitive market.”


The West Australian Ballet has only nine full-time administrative staff, with five artistic staff and 22 dancers.


The company has done particularly well at the box office during the past few years, producing popular blockbusters, such as The Red Shoes, although it faces a number of resource issues.


“One is the funding to be able to produce more new works – it’s a very costly exercise to mount a new production – and the other thing is, we’re limited by the number of weeks we have the orchestra available to us. Presently it’s seven weeks, but it used to be nine,” Mr Roth said.


“We’re very constrained by the limited number of seats in His Majesty’s Theatre. There are really only 900 sellable seats, with a capacity of 1,100. It makes it very hard to make seasons profitable.”


Workers’ compensation insurance is another issue for the company, Mr Roth said, with premiums having skyrocketed in the past decade.


WA Opera general manager Craig Whitehead said the company’s expansion plans were restricted by its current income.


“As an organisation, we would love to perform four main operas a year and there’s demand for that,” he told WA Business News.


“All our productions last year sold out before they opened, for the first time. In some instances, we didn’t even really market or advertise our programs. It shows there’s an unmet demand there that we’d love to have the ability to meet.”



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