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Donors to arts increase support

Date

Wendy Frew

In one of the most exhilarating projects to mark its 50th anniversary, the Australian Ballet last month transported 74 dancers, eight shipping containers, 52 staff and 650 costumes to New York to strut its stuff on the world's biggest stage.

It was an expensive project made possible thanks only to the support from private donors and a couple of corporate sponsors, said the Australian Ballet's executive director Valerie Wilder.

''Philanthropy has a lot of promise and that is why we have been at the forefront [in Australia] of investing in it,'' said Ms Wilder.

The Australian Ballet is one of many performing arts groups increasingly relying on philanthropy to bridge the gap between revenue and rising costs, according to figures released yesterday by the Australian Major Performing Arts Group.

Last year, for the first time, private donations to Australia's 28 major performing arts companies outstripped corporate sponsorship, making up 53 per cent of the $65 million of non-government funding attracted to the sector.

While philanthropy has risen over the past decade, corporate sponsorship and government funding has stalled.

The high value of one-off philanthropic donations last year, meant non-government income was nearly five times greater than the combined companies' results in 2002, said AMPAG Executive Director Bethwyn Serow.

''Although one-off donations can distort trends, the increase in the number and source of these gifts suggests the relationship between the performing arts and private philanthropists is deepening,'' Ms Serow said.

NSW attracts the greatest slice of the philanthropic and corporate pie although companies reported a slight fall in both last year.

A big one-off donation to the Sydney Theatre Company the previous year skewed the figures and the trend over the past decade is up. Dance companies were among the strong performers, reporting a 67 per cent increase in corporate sponsorship, private donations and fund raising events income last year.

Investment in fund-raising at Sydney-based Bangarra Dance Theatre in recent years has paid off handsomely, said the company's executive director Catherine Baldwin.

''We have done extremely well this year. Corporate sponsorship was up by between 50 per cent and 130 per cent [per sponsor] and many sponsors have committed for multiple years,'' said Ms Baldwin.

''Government funding is there and it is a long-term commitment but it is not increasing while our costs are. To grow the company, to even maintain what we are doing we absolutely rely on corporate sponsorship and philanthropy.''

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