Festival of Voice under threat

Denmark is in critical danger of losing its iconic annual Festival of Voice unless new secure sources of funding can urgently be found.

The Festival draws thousands of visitors to the town and sees an extraordinary diversity of talented local, national and international artists perform before capacity crowds. It is considered one of the best Festivals on the Australian circuit.

But according to Festival of Voice artistic director, Ms Vivienne Robertson, there is a real risk there may not be an event next year.

The Giovanni Consort at the Festival of Voice.

Festival may be bi-annual

“It is quite simply unsustainable in its current form, with the current resources we have”, she said. This year’s Festival had a budget of about $240,000 and a first glance at the figures Ms Robertson said indicated it was unlikely to break even despite an increase in ticket sales.

The hugely popular, world-class Festival is made possible by a number of local, State and Federal government grants amounting to about $137,000, with the rest provided by various other sponsors and ticket sales. Sponsorship is not guaranteed or ongoing and must be applied for each year. In addition while ticket sales largely remain static, costs increase each year and several sources of funding have now dried up. Planning for any future Festival is therefore starting from an already significant financial shortfall.

The paid staff of Denmark Arts, including Ms Robertson amount to less than three full time equivalent positions. They, along with a dedicated army of volunteers, who provide about 1200 hours of assistance, create and sustain some of Denmark’s most popular arts activities including Brave New Works and the Denmark Arts markets, as well as the Festival of Voice.

“Unless we can magic up some secure ongoing funding source – private or corporate sponsorship we will have to look at either running the Festival every two years or making it smaller.”

It is obvious that neither option appeals to Ms Robertson much.

“We would face the possibility of losing some existing funding as organisations want to fund yearly festivals,” she said. “And then there’s audience momentum. We run the risk of moving off the radar”

Increased ticket sales are obviously another potential way of increasing finances for the Festival. “We wouldn’t want the Festival to get too big because it’s the intimacy and sense of community that makes it the event it is”, Ms Robertson cautioned. “But we could certainly sustain a somewhat bigger audience. We distribute about a thousand tickets now but about four hundred of those are comps or discounted to choir members. If we could double our full-fare paying audience, say by another 500 tickets sold, we would definitely be on a different footing financially. If everybody brought along one friend who’d never been before that would be a terrific help!”

A recent push by Denmark Arts to attract more sponsorship money largely failed to attract any new major supporters.

“We had a number of existing donors coming to the table each bringing several hundred dollars more, which was beautiful, but we failed with larger possible supporters”, Ms Robertson said. The exception was the Denmark Co-Operative which this year was a new name on the sponsorship list. “We were very excited that the Denmark Co Operative came on board and it was through their generosity we were able to schedule a full busking program this year,” Ms Robertson enthused. “We thought that was a perfect fit for them and we designated four busking spots in town and they were full every day. The feedback about the energy and the creative pulse in the street indicated this was a great success. That’s something we’d love to continue.”

Shohrat Tursun and Tenzin Choegyal

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