10/11/2017 - 08:40

Rebranding an art form at Perth Festival

10/11/2017 - 08:40

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The increasingly competitive nature of the arts marketplace has prompted a rebrand at the longest-running international arts festival in Australia, Perth International Arts Festival.

Rebranding an art form at Perth Festival
Nathan Bennett says the arts marketplace has changed and Perth Festival is responding. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The increasingly competitive nature of the arts marketplace has prompted a rebrand at the longest-running international arts festival in Australia, Perth International Arts Festival.

Ahead of a busy summer season, PIAF has changed its name to Perth Festival in an effort to redefine its identity and gain philanthropic support.

The revised name has been launched along with new branding, a restructured website, and the announcement of its 2018 program.

“To call it a branding project is probably a little bit reductive, because it’s much, much more than that,” Perth Festival executive director, Nathan Bennett, said.

“It’s probably (been about) interrogating questions about our identity, our purpose, relationships with our audience, relationships with the city.”

Mr Bennett, who joined PIAF in March, said Perth had changed a lot during the past five years.

For many people, he said, PIAF was that time of year to get their annual dose of culture.

“Now it’s such a vibrant city, there’s stuff on all year round,” Mr Bennett told Business News.

On a local level, he said, the arts market had become more competitive, while the model for arts distribution had been disrupted on a global level.

“Previously, large institutions like ours could make decisions about what should be put on stage and people would buy a ticket and sit in an audience and passively consume it; that model’s broken,” Mr Bennett said.

“Now, people walk into a gallery and they take out their phones, they reframe and filter a new piece of art, which they then distribute to a new audience that they’ve created themselves online.

“It’s changing the way people expect to engage with art, they’re much more interested in participatory experiences rather than consuming art in a passive way.

“People expect content that’s served to them to be customised.

“The arts aren’t immune from that; we’re a business that has consumers.

“To get people off the couch, we’ve had to work harder than we ever have before.”

Mr Bennett said Perth Festival had been working with branding agency For The People to respond to these challenges.

“In terms of the identity itself, we’re really aware that our approach previously was to create a whole lot of brand equity in individual events and we spent a lot of time, money and effort generating excitement about the events,” he said.

“Perhaps we haven’t spent enough time and energy generating equity in the Perth Festival itself, so that’s what people trust and identify with.”

He said the new name and branding needed to focus on the ‘Perthness’ of the festival, and show that it wasn’t just about international work.

“I think any acronym is problematic, because if you don’t know what it is then it’s not accessible,” Mr Bennett said.

“One of our goals is to extend our reach and engage with more people; that includes people locally, but it also includes a focus on visitation.

“What is PIAF? People think it’s all kinds of things, they think it’s rice, they think it’s a French singer, but what is our PIAF?”

Among the numerous changes at Perth Festival, Mr Bennett said the website would be restructured to increase search functionality.

“As we start to build more data in our website, we’ll be able to be more sophisticated with how we serve people; suggestions for what they might be interested in, packaging-up shows,” he said.

Boosting philanthropy

Given a tough funding environment for the arts sector and uncertainty around the future of Perth Festival’s annual Lotterywest grant, Mr Bennett said Perth Festival would be seeking to attract greater philanthropic support, which in previous years had accounted for about 1 per cent of its revenue.

He said it would be focusing on four areas of interest to attract support – Perth Festival’s education program, artist in residence support, development of the Western Australia’s arts sector through the festival, and major art commissions.

“In each area we’re seeking a patron, which is essentially a lead donor who’s going to act as an advocate and assist us with our fundraising efforts,” Mr Bennett said.

“We’ve locked in two – Adrian and Michela Fini are supporting our artists in residence program, and the Ungar Family Foundation is supporting WA arts sector development.”

The donors had committed to gifting three $50,000 donations across three years, Mr Bennett said.

“Our ambition is to raise $1.5 million a year in private philanthropy by 2019,” he said.

“This financial year, we’ve already raised more than $350,000 in private philanthropic donations, and that’s about $75,000 more than we raised in the last financial year.”

Perth Festival is budgeting to turn over $16.7 million for 2018, with $3.4 million stemming from ticket sales.

The program

The 2018 festival is set to begin with an auditory art piece, ‘Siren Song’, which will project a collection of female voices by sound artist Byron J Scullin and curatorial duo Supple Fox.

“It’s a seven-minute piece that runs at sunrise and sunset for the first 10 days of the festival and we are fixing speakers, hundreds of them, to the tops of buildings on St Georges Terrace,” Mr Bennett said.

A Noongar smoking ceremony will take place as the sun sets on opening day, February 9

Other festival highlights will include: Robert Lepage’s The Far Side of the Moon; Taiwanese drumming and martial arts spectacle Beyond Time; street art; Sufi music and dance in Syria’s White Spirit; French circus from Compagnie XY at the Regal Theatre; and South Korean visual artist Kimsooja's exhibition at PICA. 

Meanwhile, ‘Museum of Water’ by Amy Sharrocks is an interactive installation of hundreds of bottles representing water related WA stories that featured at the 2017 festival and will return for 2018.

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