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Sydney Opera House

New Capital Fund Chairman

New Capital Fund Chairman thrilled to be part of OA future

Rupert Myer AM (pictured right), was recently appointed Chairman of the Opera Australia Capital Fund. Mr Myer, a Director of The Myer Family Company Ltd, AMCIL Limited, DUI Limited and Myer Holdings Limited, has had an abiding interest in the visual and performing arts in this country over many years. He is Chairman of the Council of the National Gallery of Australia, and has been an ongoing supporter of Opera Australia as a Patron of the Company for almost 30 years.

In announcing the appointment, Adrian Collette AM, Chief Executive of Opera Australia, said he was delighted to have Mr Myer on board. “Rupert brings a depth of experience and understanding of philanthropy and the arts that will be of great benefit,” he said.

Allerta! asked both gentlemen a few questions about the Capital Fund and Mr Myer’s appointment as Chairman of its Board. 

Adrian, what sort of skills does the Opera Australia Capital Fund Board look for in a Chairman?

AC: The purpose of the Capital Fund is to raise money and invest it in order to create a capital base for Opera Australia. On the Board, you need a balance of people with financial skills, and people committed to raising funds. You also need people who understand the priorities and challenges of the opera company itself, given that the Capital Fund’s purpose is to support its activities. In a Chairman you’re looking for someone who can provide leadership and is able to draw out the best of what each of the Board members has to offer. Rupert is highly respected within the business community and the arts community: his network is very broad, so that he can bring a lot of goodwill to the Company. The last few years have been challenging, but we’ve managed to keep our head above the water and in 2012 we’re taking several giant leaps forward. It’s wonderful to have Rupert on board for that: we’re just delighted to have such an intelligent and collegial Chairman of our Capital Fund.

Rupert, as newly appointed Chairman of the Capital Fund, which part of your background and experience in the Arts do you see coming into play?

RM: I consider it a great privilege to be able to serve Opera Australia through the Capital Fund; it’s a wonderful way to engage with the future of the Company.  I’ve enjoyed a long association with the Opera Company, but in recent years I’ve been involved principally with the visual arts, in a number of roles that have required me to work with benefactors and sponsors, and I see those particular activities as being relevant to the role that I will be performing with the Board of the Capital Fund. It is a particularly exciting time to be serving in the role during the Tenth Anniversary Capital Campaign. It has already been a pleasure to have met some of the original supporters who have recently recommitted to the Fund, as well as some first time supporters.

In your experience, how does an arts company attract and honour benefactors?

RM: There is no single way: the relationship between an arts organisation and a benefactor is very personal. Having said that, I have learned that benefactors like certainty, that is, if they’re going to make a benefaction, they like to have the certainty of knowing how it might be used, and to know that there is certainty about the longevity of the organisation that they are supporting. It also gives them confidence to know that there is other support from a variety of sources, including Government funding, commercial sponsorships and bequests. And it’s very important to ensure that those involved get a great sense of personal fulfilment from their role as benefactors. In the case of the Capital Fund, a number of really important relationships have been established in the decade or so of its existence.

Would you say that philanthropy is becoming more prevalent in Australia?

RM: I think we often undersell ourselves with regards to the philanthropic support that exists now and that has existed over time. But people are more prepared than they were perhaps a generation ago, to talk about their benefaction – it’s discussed more broadly, and visibility begets further philanthropy.

Adrian, you have said in the past that in your opinion the Capital Fund is not yet of a sufficient size to buffer the Company in difficult times. What would you consider a sufficient size?

AC: In an ideal world, this Company, given the risk factors inherent in putting on opera, the number of people we employ, and the requirements of national coverage, would have reserves that represent 50% of its operating budget. In the boom years following the inception of the Capital Fund, we were getting close to 30%. Then of course the GFC came along and decreased the value of Capital Fund reserves invested in financial markets, besides impacting negatively on box office. Our reserves have come back to about 20% of our operating costs, so we have a long way to go. Nevertheless, the Company now has a buffer that it didn’t enjoy 10 years ago. Over the next decade, I would hope that Capital Fund reserves, as a percentage of our operating revenue, would grow to closer to 40% than 20%. 

Rupert, as incoming Chairman of the Board, how do you see the future of the Capital Fund?

RM: What‘s really significant about it, is that it is in a position to advance an annual grant to OA, with certainty. One of the things we know in capital funds is that the capital value will fluctuate with financial markets. But the income from the fund is extremely important because the Company relies on it. Over time we hope to grow the amount of the annual distribution.

What would you say is realistic to aim for, in terms of value?

It depends on what the Company needs over time. And what the Company needs will depend on its ambitions. The intention of the Capital Fund, in addition to providing certainty of recurrent funding and capital growth, is to become a sizeable component of the opera’s overall budget.

Adrian, in the challenging economic environment in which OA has been operating in the past few years, has the Capital Fund proved to be the buffer that it was intended to be?

AC: Oh absolutely, without the security of that reserve, in these difficult times we just couldn’t plan. The Capital Fund has also become a major sponsor of the Company’s current budget, through its annual distribution of $400,000. That goes straight into the quality of the work that we put on, in terms of choice of repertoire, casting, choice of conductors, choice of artists. We would hope that, as things improve, that amount would increase.

How does the Capital Fund raise funds?

AC: Bequests play a very important role; we now have a very considerable body of pledges which will help to secure us in future. It’s fantastic that people are thinking about the Company in that way. We have launched the Fund’s Tenth Anniversary Capital Campaign in order to increase our capital reserves, and people have already made very generous donations. These donations will accumulate over time to secure the future of the Company.

Earlier on you hinted at the fact that, rather than cutting back in these challenging economic times, Opera Australia has decided to meet the future head-on. Could you tell us a little more about that? 

AC: We are not retreating in the face of adversity; on the contrary, we are setting out to sell more tickets to a broader audience than ever before. In 2011 our operating revenue was about $68 million; in 2012 it will be close to $100 million. That is because we are forging ahead, doing Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, going to Brisbane and doing a commercial run of South Pacific. These are much more diverse projects than the core repertory opera program, and we’ve taken them on because the Company’s sustainability depends on our playing to a much wider and broader audience. When we perform Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour we hope to attract 50,000 people, many of whom will have never set foot in the Sydney Opera House. When we perform South Pacific, 80% of the audience will never have been to the Opera House, or seen an opera. Yet we are also putting on Die tote Stadt, which has never been done by OA, and a new production of Salome, so the balance is there, but the range that we are balancing is much broader than before. If we get it right, the next five years will be an extraordinary time in the life of the Company.

Rupert, in your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing opera today?

RM: One of the great thrills of the art form of opera is that there are so many different component parts to be enjoyed: the musical performance, singing performance, the costume design, the theatricality. None of these components comes with a shrinking price tag. Clearly one of the challenges facing the Company is to manage its cost structures in line with audience expectation and an absolute requirement for quality in everything that the Company does. For the Capital Fund to begin to seriously address these challenges, our current ambition is to increase the size of the Fund to enable our annual grant to increase to $1 million.

For you personally, wherein lies the magic of opera?

RM: My 15-year-old daughter attended her first Bohème last year. One of the pleasures for me was to witness her experience the richness of the fusion of singing and music and acting that is opera. Talking to her afterwards, she was just so thrilled and moved by the experience. It was a magical moment that gave me great hope. There is a brand-new audience for opera. 

If you wish to discuss either a donation to the Capital Fund or our bequest program  please call Neroli Hobbins on 02 9318 8386, write to her at the Opera Australia Capital Fund, PO Box 291, Strawberry Hills NSW 2012 or email her on neroli.hobbins@opera-australia.org.au

Rupert Myer AM

 

Opera Australia's 2011 La bohème

 

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

January 2012 Allerta!

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