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Arts donations still strong despite GFC

A recent survey suggests Australians were still willing to dig into their pockets to support the arts during the economic downturn. Carrie Fellner reports.

Many Australians tightened their money belts during the global financial crisis, but a recent survey suggests Australians were still willing to dig into their pockets to support the arts.

The report released this month by the Australia Business Arts Foundation (AbaF), found that private support for the arts rose by more than $8 million in the 2008-2009 financial year.

“Private support for the arts appears to remain healthy despite the economic downturn,” said Jane Haley, chief executive officer at the AbaF.

“Most businesses were committed to maintaining relationships with arts organisations even if they were unable to do so at the previous financial value.”

The survey tracked the value of private support – consisting of both corporate sponsorship and individual philanthropic donations – to 700 Australian arts organisations.

The survey found that overall private support for the arts increased by four per cent from 2007.

Corporate sponsorship, which had been predicted to fall, rose by almost 2 percent to $100.7 million. Philanthropic donations rose to $111.4 million, an increase of 6 percent.

Haley said the results were not surprising.

“Many arts companies in Australia have built robust relationships with corporate partners which make them more resilient in times of economic challenge.

“During the downturn, business wanted to keep partnerships going and sought other ways to provide benefits to the arts organisations,” she said.

The Australia Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG) also released its annual survey of corporate sponsorship and private donations this month.

However, unlike the AbaF’s report, AMPAG’s earnings from sponsorship, private donations and fundraising events declined by $100,000, or 0.3 per cent, in 2009.

“Overall, it was quite a good result for the end of the year,” said Susan Donnelly, executive director at AMPAG.

“The report reflected some of the anecdotal information we’d received from the companies which was that while people individually were still giving money, that the level of donations was going down slightly.”

She said private support is vital to the survival and growth of arts organisations.

“These days government funding doesn’t keep pace with inflation rates and companies only ever get a proportion of their funds from government and then they have to get the rest from private sources. This includes box offices, but also includes things like corporate sponsorship and philanthropy. All companies work upon a mixed income model.”

Western Australian MLC, Linda Savage has been working in the community to try and secure more funding for the arts. She recently organised a group of 40 women to donate $1000 each to the local theatre, The Black Swan.

Savage says she is concerned that the WA’s state government is failing to contribute its fair share to the arts.

“My concern is that the state government is lagging behind and failing to set an example despite our booming economy.

“As important as it is to do fundraising the way I did, that is no substitute for adequate funding from the government,” she said.

Many small and medium sized organisations depend on private funding for their survival.
Brendan Day is the development manager of Sydney Dance Company. He says the company would not be alive without private contributions.

“Without our partners program and the generosity of our individual donors we actually wouldn’t be functioning as a company,” he said.

Day said some of their donors support multiple organisations.

“A lot of our high level donors are actually donors to the majority of arts companies in Australia, in Sydney.

“A lot of our big donors donate to the opera, to the ballet, to the symphony, to the dance company, to the theatre. So there’s very much a big following of generous people in Sydney.”

Simon Mordant is the joint chief executive of corporate advisory firm Greenhill Caliburn and is a strong supporter of the arts in Sydney.

He has run a number of arts based scholarships at Cranbrook and supported the education program at Sydney Theatre Company. In May this year his family pledged $15 million to the redevelopment of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

“If you believe that the community you live in should be a creative and vibrant community then the arts are central to that – the visual arts, the performing arts. We have a very firm belief that we should leave the community in a better shape than we found it in when we arrived. And giving back something that we feel very strongly and passionately about – that’s what drives us,” he said.
“But also I think if you want world class institutions then you better have world class infrastructure. You can’t have world class museums if you don’t have the buildings and the infrastructure to provide the programs that you want.”

But Donnelly says there may be some other reasons why people are so willing to donate to the arts.
“I think Australians are financially better off overall, despite the GFC, and they’re now at a level of sophistication whereby they want to share some of their wealth.

“The other thing I find interesting is that Australians tend to not be such church-going people as they used to be. Whereas traditionally people would give money at churches when the plate was handed around, now they tend to give money in other ways.”

Doyle also adds that not-for-profit organisations have changed their approach to fundraising and have benefited from the result.

“Whereas before, say ten or even twenty years ago it was considered quite rude in Australian culture to ask for money.

“I think there’s more of an openness now, for people to say: ‘Will you help us?’ And generally, people like to feel that they can help,” Doyle said.

“So whether it’s a performing arts company, that they want to be able to help, or it’s a children hospital, or the local football team, they like to be able to feel that they’re contributing to the success of that organisation.”

Carrie Fellner
Reportage Online
15 July 2010