Thousands of Queenslanders experience opera thanks to philanthropic partnership

Opera Queensland's two major regional tours and a large scale tour to remote Qld coming up in November made possible by their long standing partnership with the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation (TFFF).

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Thousands of Queenslanders experience opera thanks to philanthropic partnership

“Thanks to the support of TFFF, Opera Queensland has delivered performances in quarries, wetlands, vineyards and paddocks from Weipa to Coolangatta, Mount Isa to Marlborough,”Artistic Director and CEO Patrick Nolansaid.

Tim and Gina Fairfax of Tim Fairfax Family Foundation (TFFF) were recognised for their contribution to Australia’s cultural life as recipients of Creative Partnerships Australia’s Philanthropy Leadership Award, after being nominated by Opera Queensland.

In July and August a tour of a fully staged production of Gilbert & SullivanRuddigore,or the Witch’s Curse! to six regional Queensland cities saw 126 local people perform in the chorus, after doing two months of professional training.

This was the third time Opera Queensland had embarked on such an ambitious community project thanks to TFFF support. Since the first tour in 2014, 1600 Queensland residents have auditioned for community choruses, with more than 700 performing in front of friends and family alongside Opera Queensland Principal Artists.

Patrick Nolan said new regional choirs had formed as a result, which had gone on to perform at festivals and concerts.

“On top of the groups, many individuals have taken part when recovering from cancer or going through other major life changes, and have used the projects as inspiration and a way of healing,” Mr Nolan said.

Another current regional tour made possible thanks to generous support from the TFFF, is Opera Queensland and shake & stir theatre co’s take on Humperdinck’sHansel & Gretel.

This new production has already been seen by more than 13,000 school students from every corner of the vast state, following the resounding success of the collaboration’s first classroom hitFiZZ!based onL'elisir d'amore, which was seen by more than 26,000 kids.

Patrick Nolan said Opera Queensland’s six-year relationship with TFFF had enabled it to establish itself as a leader in community arts with several pioneering projects that have won awards, created legacies and changed lives in regional and remote Queensland.

“Queensland is unique, not just in its vast area, but in its numerous regional cities and countless remote towns, each with their own very strong identities.

“Without the support of TFFF we couldn’t hope to reach these communities, develop these long standing relationships, help them build artistic capacity and bring opera to all kinds of audiences from the very young to the most remote.

“TFFF’s support is fundamental to our success in this area and we have been able to leverage it to build capacity and secure other funding sources,” Mr Nolan said.

In November Opera Queensland will start work on Composed in Queensland, a new project funded by the John Villiers Trust, leveraged through the TFFF partnership, in the Shires of Longreach, Winton, Barcaldine, Blackall and Barcoo in the Central West region of the state.

Bringing together students from the five remote Queensland shires, the project is a shining example of how TFFF’s support has not only had a long term impact on local lives, but is being leveraged to secure more philanthropic and corporate funding.

Composed in Queensland will result in five new compositions by students, who will collaborate with country music songwriters over a six week period.

The project was inspired by Opera Queensland’s long-term commitment to the tiny town of Cunnamulla, 750 km west of Brisbane, where the company delivered a smaller version of the songwriting collaboration last year.

“We wouldn’t be able to plan these kinds of long-term remote and regional projects and continue to build on our work without TFFF,” Patrick Nolan said.

“As a result of the partnership, Opera Queensland has been able to employ a full-time Head of Learning, Regional and Community on an ongoing basis, and this has a remarkable impact on the culture of the organisation.”

Mark Taylor has performed this vital role, which was initially funded by Education Queensland, for the last eight years.

Before joining Opera Queensland, Mr Taylor was Principal of a number of regional and remote schools, where he realised the capacity of the arts as a vehicle to engage students across all areas of schooling.

He said he shared a genuine passion for the arts, education and remote Queensland with TFFF, and when the Education Queensland funding stopped for his role, he was able to continue with Opera Queensland thanks to the Foundation.

“The work we are doing in Cunnamulla and the Central West in particular is very close to my heart,” Mr Taylor said.

“Last year’s project, which saw four artists work with 35 students from Cunnamulla’s State and Catholic Schools, helped bridge a divide between the two schools.”

For the 2017 project, Opera Queensland partnered with the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) to give First Nations perspectives prominence as 88% of students enrolled at Cunnamulla State School identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

The students were taught opera repertoire and given help to adapt thesongs so they pertain to Cunnamulla and what it means to live there. This culminated in a performance celebrating what they loved about their unique part of Queensland.

“It didn’t matter what uniform they wore, how long they’d lived in Cunnamulla or what their parents did in the community. The project was a celebration of a small community facing debilitating drought and the impact that a positive experience like singing together can have,” Mr Taylor said.

“What transpired was a testament to the resilience of the remote community.

“The week long workshop was to culminate on the Friday evening at the Cunnamulla State School Fete, which is an important social event in the community. Remarkably, after such a long drought, that afternoon the skies opened up and the fete had to be cancelled.

“The students were so disappointed they could not perform to the wider community,it was decided they would offer an impromptu performance in Cunnamulla’s main street, Stockyard Street.

“The keyboard was plugged in behind the counter at the newsagency and the students sang proudly to their parents, grandparents, local shoppers and tourists, with cars stopping to enjoy the spectacle.

“Every student who committed to the project attended from start to finish, with school staff commenting on the level of engagement achieved by those who can struggle with formal schooling.

“It is stories like this that demonstrate how vital our six year relationship with TFFF has been to capacity building, not only for Opera Queensland but also the communities we work with,” Mr Taylor concluded.

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