Funding Woes Put Ballet School at Risk of Curtain Call

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The Queensland Ballet may need to consider closing its training academy by the end of 2024 due to a lack of funding, its chief said.

The company wrote to federal arts minister Tony Burke in April to press for extra money, and its executive director Dilshani Weerasinghe said the academy’s students and their families may not be aware of the situation.

“We dance hard, we hustle hard to make the model work, families, and students would not be feeling this level of crisis,” she told AAP.

The company as a whole received $848,000 (US$565,000) from Creative Australia in 2024 and a further $50,000 (US$33,000) from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, accounting for 2.8 percent of $31.5 million (US$21 million) in operating expenses.

As well as box office takings and philanthropic and corporate support, the company received another $4.4 million (US$3 million) from the Queensland government.

At a senate estimates hearing on May 31, Queensland Nationals senator Matt Canavan read out parts of Queensland Ballet’s letter to the minister.

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He pointed out that while the federal government provides about $6 million (US$4 million) annually to the Australian Ballet, the Brisbane-based Queensland Ballet got far less.

“I’m just a proud Queenslander who wants to protect a fine institution,” Senator Canavan said.

“There’s a huge disparity in those numbers … that seems hard to justify.”

Queensland Ballet is in discussions with Creative Australia, the arts investment body’s CEO Adrian Collette confirmed at the hearing.

But he explained that the company is designated as a state-based institution and funded accordingly.

As for the Queensland Ballet Academy, it is not part of Australia’s elite group of eight national arts training organisations, which are based in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria and recently received a $115 million (US$76 million) support package in the federal budget.

Unlike its counterparts such as the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne, the Queensland Ballet Academy receives no federal money.

“What isn’t fair is that those eight are in Victoria and NSW, and that Queensland or other states are not considered in that,” said Ms. Weerasinghe.

Queensland Ballet saw unprecedented growth under its former artistic director, acclaimed dancer Li Cunxin, and has expanded to become the second biggest of Australia’s five large dance companies.

This included doubling the size of its ensemble to 48 dancers, almost doubling its staff to more than 280 people, and building its $17.7 million (US$11.5 million) academy at Kelvin Grove State College.

In a speech during the company’s tour to Canberra ahead of his retirement in 2023, Mr. Li said his company needed urgent funding, and a lack of federal support despite years of advocacy had contributed to his ill health.

“Over the years, this disparity has placed the company at a huge financial disadvantage compared to our peers in other states,” he said.

“For me personally, I have no doubt it has contributed to the decline in my health as I have been single-mindedly stubborn in my belief that Queenslanders should not be disadvantaged.”

The Queensland government has been contacted for comment.

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