The First Nations programming in the first week of the festival was well received by audiences. Photo: Toni Wilkinson

Record box office for Perth Festival

Wednesday, 3 June, 2020 - 11:42

The 2020 Perth Festival has proved to be the most successful in the event's history, with $5.98 million earned at the box office, despite some programming cancelled due to COVID-19 and lower audience numbers.

The Perth Festival 2020 Report, compiled by consultancy Culture Counts, found box office sales increased from $5.4 million in 2019, even though three weeks of Lotterywest Films were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Perth Festival executive director Nathan Bennett said it was a record-breaking box office, which was especially good news as much of the work presented was local.

“[There were] large-scale productions like Cloudstreet and so many others that were aiming to celebrate all that is great about this place,” Mr Bennett told Business News.

“I think in particular, the first week of the festival being highly indigenous work presented some degree of risk given it has not been done before by a major international arts festival, but we were absolutely thrilled with how audiences responded to that work.”

The First Nations programming in the first week of the festival was particularly well received, according to the report.

It showed direct expenditure at the festival, the first of four under the guidance of artistic director Iain Grandage, increased by 60 per cent to $30.3 million this year, from $19 million last year.

The largest event of the festival, Highway to Hell, had a direct economic impact of $6.1 million.

Total attendance decreased from 454,986 in 2019 to 413, 087 in 2020, while the average spend for festival-goers increased from $23 to $54.  

Mr Bennett said the increase in average spend was mainly due to Highway to Hell, but the festival had also put a lot of energy into positioning the festival as a destination event.

The benefits of the first year of a four-year partnership with Tourism WA were evident, with tourism expenditure up 8 per cent to $11 million.

About 28 per cent of tourists said the festival was the main reason they had come to Perth.

“It’s always been a celebration for local people, but increasingly we need to extend the value of the festival further by using it as a way to draw visitors here which we did really successfully this year which really helps from an economic perspective, injecting cash into the economy, but it also helps from a brand perspective,” Mr Bennett said.

“Positioning Perth and WA more broadly as a culturally vibrant place, I think is of critical importance and we have a really strong relationship with Tourism WA who share our view, which is really great.”

Given the COVID-19 pandemic and interstate and international border closures, Mr Bennett said any future campaigns may have to focus on intrastate audiences instead.

He said the festival content would also have to have a more local focus in 2021, as the likelihood of bringing international work was non-existent.

“I don’t see that as a departure from what we have already been doing; with this festival, 75 per cent of the artists were local so I see this as a shift of emphasis for next year to more local content, with some Australian content as well, given that’s viable,” he said.

Modelling for next year, Mr Bennett said they were taking into account social distancing and consumer sentiment.

“Beyond what people are allowed to do, what are they comfortable doing?” he asked.

“And what do we need to put in place to ensure that we can operate in a safe way.”

Mr Bennett said the festival could play a role in helping to rebuild the arts sector, one of the industries most affected by COVID-19.

“Without a healthy local arts ecology, there’s very little point in putting on a festival,” he said.

“It’s critical that the local arts sector is strong and we see ourselves playing a role in that.”