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Arts organisations know how to win friends

Wealthy individuals have proven better friends to the arts than corporate Australia during the economic downturn, the latest instalment in the Australia Business Arts Foundation’s survey finds. The survey of 241 arts organizations shows that corporate sponsorship for the arts lagged donations from wealthy individuals in 2008-09 for the second year in a row.

Corporate Australia contributed $100.7 million, or 47 per cent of private sector income to the cultural sector, compared with 53 per cent, or $111.4 million, from donations.
For much of the early 2000s the trend was reversed, with sponsorship accounting for the biggest share of private income.

The exception appears to be for the 28 flagship performing arts companies, which a different survey, this one by the Australian Major Performing Arts Group, shows are still more reliant on sponsorship than philanthropy, albeit to a significantly lesser extent than they were nine years ago.

The overall sector’s growing reliance on donations highlights greater efforts by arts companies to wood donors, who don’t tent to need as much servicing as corporations and are mostly already true believers, basing their decision to give on an emotional attachment to the company rather than a hard-headed marketing outcome. In tough economic times, this makes them easier to get across the line.

The splashy announcements bear the new trend out: in the late 1990s, the biggest arts deal around was the Seven Network’s multimillion-dollar sponsorship of Opera Australia. This year it’s the Ian Potter foundation’s $8 million donation to the Australian Ballet, pushed to fruition by the late stockbroker’s wife, Primrose Potter, after whom the Ballet has named its Melbourne headquarters.
Sponsorship grew by less than 2 per cent in 2009, according to the ABAF survey, compared with 6 per cent growth for private giving. As a share of the sector’s total income, overall private support remained steady at 9.3 per cent.

The top tier of the performing arts sector – the country’s 28 flagship music, dance, opera, drama and circus companies – still gets the majority of their support through their sponsorship, highlighting the desire for corporations to align themselves with the blue-chip, client entertaining end of the market.

According to the Australian Major Performing Arts Group’s survey, also released yesterday, these big arts companies derived 54 per cent of their private income from sponsorship in 2009 compared with 41 per cent from donations and 5 per cent from fund-raising dinners and like events. Nevertheless, they are trending the same way, with their reliance on sponsorship down from 71.7 per cent in 2001.
Sponsorship for the AMPAG companies grew by 1.8 per cent to $26.5 million. These companies put more money into wooing private donors in 2009 – 15 per cent or $4 million more than in 2008 – but donations fell by 2.3 per cent.

Katrina Strickland
Australian Financial Review
Thursday 1 July, 2010