Sep 28, 2012

Two-speed performing arts sector drags down attendance

New data released by the Australia Council confirms stagnating audiences for the nation's largest performing arts organisations. But companies say it's not as bad as it looks.

Ben Eltham — <em>Crikey</em> arts commentator

Ben Eltham

Crikey arts commentator

The Australia Council has released a report detailing flat growth in audience numbers for the nation's largest performing arts organisations. On the upside, the finances of the sector appear to be in good health. The report, a snapshot of key trends in the best-funded part of the Australia Council's responsibilities, covers 10 years of data for the 28 so-called "major" performing arts organisations, such as Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, the major orchestras, and the state theatre companies. Collectively, these organisations reach more than three million Australians annually and employ over 8540 artists and cultural workers. Importantly, Australia's major performance companies are doing well financially. The report says that financial reserves have quintupled in the past 10 years, and box-office revenue has increased by 51% to $176 million. Sponsors and donors have also been more generous, with sponsorship and philanthropic revenue more than doubling to $66 million. Governments have played their part too, with government grant funding increasing by $53 million in the past decade, to a state and federal total of $157 million last year. However, the report is not all good news for the big arts companies. Audiences were essentially flat across the decade, with attendances either levelling out or only slightly increasing from 2001. That means the increase in box-office revenue was largely the result of rising ticket prices, rather than growing audiences.

Paid capital city attendances, major performing arts companies, 2001-11 (source: Australia Council)

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