Arts ed a major driver for philanthropist

‘The diminishing availability of music and arts education in the state school systems is something that greatly concerns me.’

Arts ed a major driver for philanthropist

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So said Michael Ullmer, deputy chair of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, at an AMPAG event in Canberra last week to celebrate the contribution of Australia’s major performing arts companies.

He said arts education in the public system was in stark contrast to that in private schools where it goes from strength to strength—‘and for good reason, given the well-researched link between involvement in music, and academic achievement and social development’.

‘That is why I am such a passionate advocate for arts education’, he said.

‘It is our obligation to help every child, no matter what their background, realise their potential.’

The Ullmer Family Foundation has put its money where its mouth is and in 2013 announced a multi-year pledge to help the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra deliver its Meet the Orchestra program to schoolchildren across Melbourne.

Designed for upper primary school children, Meet the Orchestra allows schoolchildren to experience high quality live music, and incorporates innovative, pre-concert online classroom resources.

‘Michael and Jenny’s dedication and generosity are a shining example of the difference great benefactors can make … and their financial support is a wonderful endorsement of our work in this area’, André Gremillet, the MSO’s Managing Director, said.

Mr Ullmer’s support for arts education comes at an especially pertinent time, given the recent release of the report of the Australian Curriculum review.

He pointed out the major performing arts organisations play a significant role in arts education, reaching over 500,000 students in schools every year.

Mr Ullmer is also keen to encourage new policies in private giving.

He said initiatives such as Private Ancillary Funds had been an important driver of increased giving.

He urged attendees at the AMPAG event in Canberra, which included Minister for the Arts Senator George Brandis and other senior government and opposition figures, to give consideration to the recommendations of the review led by Harold Mitchell into private sector support for the arts—‘particularly around matched giving, which would have the capacity to further increase philanthropic contributions to the arts’.

Philanthropy is a critical component in the public–private partnership that sustains the major performing arts companies.

‘As the banker in the room, you will expect me to talk about money!

‘Funding an enterprise like an orchestra is a challenging task. They typically have around 100 musicians, the majority of whom are employed full time, delivering an enormous variety of performances throughout the year.

‘Fifteen per cent of our costs is covered by corporate sponsorship, and personal philanthropy.

‘Indeed philanthropy is becoming an increasingly important revenue source to arts bodies generally, more than doubling over the last five years to $43 million across the 28 major performing arts companies.’

He said this ability to access philanthropic funding was increasingly important if our arts companies were to have the capacity to continue to demonstrate the highest standards of excellence, while broadening their reach.

That reach includes touring—an expensive exercise, international touring particularly so.

The MSO has just returned from a successful international tour, for which the company was able to raise over $1 million from private philanthropy.

It played at the Proms in London and the Edinburgh festival, to great acclaim and with extensive media coverage.

Mr Ullmer said the tour created significant goodwill—both for the orchestra and Australia, in the heartland of one of this country’s key strategic partners.

That goodwill is the foundation of ‘cultural diplomacy’—and international tours by major companies to Asia, Europe and America show that Australia is a cultural nation with a sophisticated arts scene, not just a destination of sport and landscape.

Mr Ullmer said that in the years he’d been involved with the MPA companies—for the past eight years with the MSO and before that, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra—he had seen their incredible reach.

‘Last year the majors played to over 3 million people, from all walks of life, and in venues across Australia—extensive outreach programs in regional areas and significant investment in educational programs for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

‘No wonder they have such strong brands, and are held in such esteem by the community.’

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