Monday, October 25, 2010

Pompous blathering from the Weekend Australian

It was hard not to be peeved by a recent article in the Weekend Australian entitled “Little orchestras with big ambitions count cost”.   The title alone provides a fair indication of what’s coming – a pompous dismissal by one or more Sydney or Melbourne-centric arts buffs of the aspirations of the hayseed orchestras located in the rest of the country.

Feedback on the article has already pointed out the obvious error on the ASO grant figures (they double counted the grant money the ASO receives from the state, including it as both a state and commonwealth grant) and there were a couple of crackerjack quotes which beg some further investigation.

Firstly, some unnamed "experts" are cited in support of the view that orchestras outside of Sydney and Melbourne are very lucky to exist at all - suggesting by default that they really shouldn't:

The Weekend Australian's Melbourne music critic Eamonn Kelly says funding has become "a perpetual problem for small orchestras". Experts based in the nation's bigger cities argue that smaller centres should consider themselves very lucky to have a resident orchestra at all.

We can draw two obvious conclusions from this:

  • Funding is not a perennial problem for big orchestras
  • Big cities are entitled to a resident orchestra while smaller centres are "very lucky" to have them

On this basis I'd have to question why $19m of commonwealth grant money was spent to keep the Sydney and Melbourne orchestras alive in 2009. Clearly they are entitled to this amount of money. On the other hand, $24m of commonwealth grants were spent to keep the ASO, QSO, TSO and WASO going in the same year. Clearly we should thank our lucky stars for this windfall!

The following is an extract from the 2009 annual reports of each of the major orchestras, with NZ thrown in for the hell of it:

 

(amounts in $m)

ADELAIDE

SYDNEY

MELB

WA

QLD

TAS

NZ*

Commonwealth  Funding

5.94

9.776

9.291

6.145

6.595

5.642

10.845

State Funding

1.557

3.055

2.672

2.299

2.69

1.931

-

Ticket Sales

3.079

13.392

7.857

4.122

2.201

1.442

1.483

Sponsors/Donations

1.14

4.356

1.494

3.238

0.553

0.541

1.759

Other

0.705

1.797

1.761

0.719

0.644

0.543

0.723

Total Funding

12.421

32.376

23.075

16.523

12.683

10.099

14.811

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Employee Expenses

7.994

18.495

13.445

9.248

8.114

5.588

8.017

Total Expenses

12.375

33.467

24.019

16.163

12.83

9.843

14.974

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grant Funding as a % Total

60%

40%

52%

51%

73%

75%

73%

Cth Fund as % Empl Exp

74%

53%

69%

66%

81%

101%

135%

State/Cth Funding Ratio

26%

31%

29%

37%

41%

34%

-

  *30/6/09 exchange rate of 1.2399 used

There are a few interesting conclusions to be drawn from these numbers:

  • Without Commonwealth government money, they're all finished
  • Sydney is clearly less reliant on Commonwealth money than the rest, but they'd still collapse without it
  • Melbourne's reliance on grant money is much higher than Sydney, and higher even than WASO
  • The mining boom has done wonders for the WASO sponsorship and donations programs

The pomposity of Kelly and these nameless "experts" didn't end there. For example:

But Kelly says because its audience tends to be older than in some other cities, the ASO has not been able to be as adventurous with its repertoire. The safer repertoire means the orchestra does not generate as much excitement as orchestras in other cities.

Looking through the programs for Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide I find it hard to make this distinction, but what's needed here, to prove or disprove this hypothesis, is a "repertoire safety index" - something to think about for a future posting.

Sponsorship, philanthropy and ticket sales tend to be static in smaller capitals, and government funding is growing annually by about 3 per cent.

Are they? This one's easily tested - again, some fodder for a future posting.

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