Esplanade reports $12m drop in yearly income

Results for past financial year reflect pandemic's impact on iconic arts centre

The Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay's total income fell by about $12 million as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the arts centre hard over the 12 months from April last year to March this year (FY20/21).

Sponsorships and donations declined from $5.4 million in FY19/20 to $4.3 million in FY20/21, according to its annual report released on Monday.

There was an even more drastic dip in rental revenues. Its mall and other rentals brought in just $3.8 million, compared with $7.08 million in the previous financial year.

Esplanade chief executive Yvonne Tham, 46, says: "That fall in income reflects our efforts to keep our tenants going."

The cancellation of live shows was a blow to venue hire and event services, which recorded $756,000 compared with $4.4 million in FY19/20.

There was an equally precipitous decline in ticket sales, from FY19/20's $4.98 million to $358,000 last year.

These numbers reflect the full impact of Covid-19 on the arts centre, which went dark for the first time in its 19-year history during the circuit breaker period from April to June last year.

The annual report noted that the Esplanade presented more than 1,200 live or on-site activities, which comes to only 30 per cent of a typical year's programming before the pandemic.

Just over 100,000 live audience members attended these events, compared with 1.9 million people who passed through its doors in FY19/20.

Like others in the performing arts sector, the Esplanade has had to recalibrate its programming.

It has introduced a slate of new offerings, including a children's festival, March On; industry training initiative Esplanade Academy; and a mobile outreach programme, Esplanade On The Go.

Ms Tham says: "We focused on how we could uplift spirits."

Besides programming music for its free public spaces, the centre has also zeroed in on supporting home-grown artists.

Pointing to new programmes such as Playlab+ and Artist Research Residency, Ms Tham says: "We try something new now because the cost of failure is low. The gain from potential success is even higher. This year, you will see us scaling up some of these things."

She acknowledges that this year will be financially challenging, but the centre is looking ahead to next year, when it will celebrate its 20th anniversary with the opening of the new Singtel Waterfront Theatre.

"Hopefully, in 2022, when we have our new venue, we can not only have some of the old things returning - the magic of live theatre - but they will also be integrated with the new things we have been doing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2021, with the headline 'Esplanade reports $12m drop in yearly income'. Subscribe