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Philanthropists ease downturn's pain

AUSTRALIAN arts companies have been buffeted but not blown away by the economic downturn if two new surveys on sponsorship and private giving are any guide.

The Australian Business Arts Foundation, which released its 2008-09 survey yesterday, found that despite the global financial crisis, private-sector arts contributions rose to $212.1 million, an increase of 4 per cent on 2007-08.

Its tracking of 700 small and medium-sized arts organisations, major galleries, festivals and major performing arts groups found that sponsorship, which had been predicted to fall, rose almost 2 per cent to $100.7 million. Private donations rose to $111.4 million, an increase of 6 per cent.

The Australian Major Performing Arts Group, which yesterday released its annual survey of corporate sponsorship and private donations, found overall earnings from these areas fell slightly in 2009. Corporate sponsorship rose 1.8 per cent, with dance companies being the main beneficiaries.

The body is an umbrella group for the 28 major performing arts companies in Australia, including the main state-based symphonies, theatre, opera and dance companies, plus national companies such as Musica Viva, the Australian Ballet, Opera Australia, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Circus Oz.

Its survey found that earnings from sponsorship, private donations and fund-raising events declined by $100,000, or 0.3 per cent, in 2009.

NSW fared well, recording an increase of $660,000 in private funding compared with 2008. Corporate sponsorship earnings stabilised although they haven't returned to the peak reported in 2005.

The picture was less rosy in Victoria, where total private funding fell by $1.3 million, mainly because of a fall in the value of donations. Longer-term, both surveys show private giving has soared in the past decade. According to the business arts foundation, overall private support has risen by 90 per cent since 2001-02.

The major performing arts group says philanthropic giving for its members has risen by 157.3 per cent since 2001.

The executive director of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group, Sue Donnelly, says the financial downturn hit the value of donations rather than the number of donors.

''In some instances the companies were getting more donors but they were getting less money,'' she says.

Corporate sponsorship has been tracking at a similar level for the past couple of years and still represents the largest proportion of the arts companies' private-sector revenue.

''What that indicates is that the companies were very successful at the start in getting sponsors on board. But the proportion of sponsorship has changed over time as philanthropy has taken off.

''The coming year will be interesting in terms of sponsorship - some companies will be looking at renewing sponsorship, so it will depend on how the corporates have fared. But by and large, corporate support for the arts has been maintained.''

Sydney Morning Herald
July 1, 2010