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Features/Perth Festival

Festival to drive recovery

3 June 2020

Record-breaking 2020 Perth Festival raises hopes for a path out of the COVID-19 downturn. Rosalind Appleby reports.

The 2021 Perth Festival promises a ready-made stimulus package to reinvigorate Western Australia’s battered arts sector as a new report shows a big economic benefit to the State from this year’s event.

The Perth Festival’s Impact Report, released today, reveals record-breaking statistics from the 2020 Festival that demonstrate the organisation’s capacity to support local arts organisations and artists in bouncing back from the COVID-19 shutdown.

The Culture Counts report, which combined ticketing data with wider expenditure analysis and a survey of 5,435 people, revealed the 2020 Festival generated a record $6 million from ticket sales, even with the cancellation of the final three weeks of the Lotterywest Films season because of the pandemic. Nearly a quarter (23%) of the 413,076 total attendances were Festival first-timers.

Spending by audiences, artists and the Festival was $30.3 million, up 60% from 2019, providing a flow-on total economic value to the State of $84.7 million.

The iconic closing event Highway to Hell attracted 144,850 people and 42% of them were attending their first Festival event. The 10km-long Canning Highway community ‘Bon-fest’ doubled trade for local businesses, made a direct economic impact of $6.1 million and had a flow-on economic benefit of $17.2 million.

The 2020 Festival was the first of four for artistic director Iain Grandage, built around the theme of Karla, a Noongar term for fire/home. The opening week comprised entirely of Indigenous performance – a first for a major Australian international arts festival – was particularly celebrated by audiences and bodes well for an ongoing focus on telling local stories.

a line of theatre performers stand before an audience on their feet applauding
Yirra Yaakin Theatre’s Noongar language premiere ofHecate’ took place in the first week of Perth Festival. Photo Dana Weeks

More than 75% of the 2,286 participating artists were from WA and the Festival put $10.8 million into the pockets of local artists, workers, suppliers and contractors. This is set to increase in 2021, as border restrictions and quarantine rules will likely increase dependency on local content and local workers, offering a ray of light for West Australians looking for work.

‘The Festival is committed to maximising opportunities for our innovative and energetic world-class artists and cultural organisations as we bounce back after COVID-19,’ Festival executive director Nathan Bennett said.

Many respondents to the report said the Festival enhanced social harmony, made them feel proud of Perth and better connected to their community.

Rebuilding a sense of community confidence would be vital to the community post-pandemic, Bennett said.

‘Western Australians will be looking for creative ways to relax and relate to one another after a period of great stress on our financial, mental and social wellbeing. The capacity to come together and share stories and experiences at a Festival like ours will be more important than ever as we rebuild community confidence after a vulnerable time for so many people,’ he said.

‘Perth Festival was founded by the University of Western Australia in the wave of economic and social renewal after World War II. Now, more than at any time since then, we must continue to be a Festival for the people of WA.’

The Perth Festival 2020 Impact Report can be found here.

Pictured top: Highway to Hell Dom Mariani and the Tommyhawks. Photo Tashi Hall

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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