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Philanthropy provides sweet charity for the arts

PRIVATE giving, rather than corporate sponsorship or government funding, is providing an increasing share of arts companies' financial base.

The changing sources of arts funding are contained in a report released last week by the Australia Business Arts Foundation. It revealed that over the past decade, income from sponsorships had increased 52 per cent (up $33.5 million) and income from donations 161 per cent (up $76 million).

Yet the global financial crisis meant that in 2009-10, sponsorship declined 2.7 per cent to $98 million while private giving increased 10.6 per cent to $123.1 million.

Australian Ballet executive director Valerie Wilder says this broadly reflects corporate social responsibility spending trends "changing priority from arts to youth or healthcare".

In Victoria, corporate support dropped 20 per cent, while donations increased 18 per cent, according to the ABaF survey of about 300 arts and cultural organisations.

These national shifts in funding priorities are occurring against a backdrop of uncertainty over the future of other historic revenue streams for arts companies: government funding and ancillary earnings. A federal government inquiry on tax concessions for the not-for-profit sector could put the kibosh on tax-free income earned from things such as bar takings or venue hire.

Executive director of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group Susan Donnelly says what's changed is how arts groups go about their fund-raising business. These days, fund-raisers are more likely to turn the begging bowl into an opportunity for the donor to get involved and "engaged". The Sydney Theatre Company has had great success wooing the wealthy through private events, a program enhanced with Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton at the helm. An event last October, where 260 people mingled with Blanchett, Upton and STC actors, raised $554,296 from a combination of the $550-a-head ticket price and an auction.

But it's not all champagne and glitterati. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra saw donations from the Schapper family increase twentyfold through their support of a program aimed at needy kids in Melbourne's northern suburbs. The MSO has increased the scale of their education programs in recent years, partly from a commitment to ensuring children from many backgrounds get the chance to hear and participate in orchestral musical events, but also with a weather eye to changing donor interests.

At the Meadows Primary School in Broadmeadows, grade 2 and 3 students are provided with a violin, viola or cello, and attend classes taught by members of the MSO. The kids, parents and teachers are also provided with MSO concert tickets. The program (known as the "Pizzicato Effect") was established in 2009. Its retention rate is about 90 per cent. According to the MSO, teachers report benefits across classes and the curriculum and the scheme has inspired a similar one at a Shepparton primary school.

The family foundation's continuing support, with that of two other donors, is crucial, with costs at $900 per child running at $142,000 this year. The program receives no government funding.

By GINA McCOLL and WENDY FREW

The Age

6 July 2011