Esplanade donor numbers a record

But total donations and sponsorships drop as economic uncertainties result in more cautious giving

The Esplanade, Singapore's national performing arts centre, reported record donor numbers in the last financial year, although total giving fell from the previous year.

The arts venue, which turns 15 this year, noted in its annual report released last Friday that the number of donors and sponsors had increased to 117 in the last financial year, compared with 67 the year before.

It had 71 donors, the highest number since it opened in 2002.

Ms Yvonne Tham, assistant chief executive officer of the Esplanade, said: "Hearteningly, many of these first-time donors were local small and medium-sized enterprises and even Esplanade staff."

She added that there has been a growing number of individuals and companies who "believe in the positive impact and role the arts have in society today".

Sponsors give in expectation of benefits such as brand placement, while donors enjoy tax exemptions for their contributions.

Despite this, total donations and sponsorships to the Esplanade fell to $3.93 million from $6.22 million in the previous financial year.

Matthew Bourne's ballet Sleeping Beauty was among the Esplanade's programmes in the last financial year, which chalked up a total attendance of more than two million.
Matthew Bourne's ballet Sleeping Beauty was among the Esplanade's programmes in the last financial year, which chalked up a total attendance of more than two million. PHOTO: JOHAN PERSSON

According to the Esplanade, this was largely due to an "unprecedented" cash donation of $2 million in the previous financial year from a single donor, as well as more cautious giving this year due to economic uncertainties.

"For the next financial year, we expect fund-raising for our various needs to be challenging due to economic uncertainties, but we are heartened by the many donors who have responded so far to our call for support," Ms Tham said in an e-mail to The Straits Times.

"In our next stage of development, we want to do more to bring the arts to the young, seniors and underserved communities, as well as to continually make accessible (the more than) 70 per cent of Esplanade's quality programmes that are free for the public to enjoy."

The arts centre closed the financial year with a surplus of $9.4 million, a drop from about $10 million the year before.

Its programmes had a total attendance of more than two million, with more than 454,500 attendees for ticketed programmes and close to 1.6 million for non-ticketed ones.

These programmes included the return of blockbuster musical Les Miserables to Singapore after 20 years, as well as Matthew Bourne's ballet Sleeping Beauty and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's presentation of Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble.

It also launched new community outreach initiatives such as JOYears, a free membership programme for those aged 55 and older that was started in June last year.

The Esplanade said in the report that, moving ahead, it hopes its new 550-seat waterfront theatre, announced in April and slated to open in 2021, will help further its content and artistic development and improve audience engagement in the next 10 to 15 years. It currently lacks a mid-sized venue of this capacity.

It noted that this would require significant investments in time and resources and said it has started putting in place plans to raise funds for the $30 million venue as well as preparing programmes suitable for the new space.

"With this new theatre, we will be able to present a greater diversity of leading artists and productions to inspire our artists and audiences in Singapore," the arts centre's chief executive officer Benson Puah said in the report.

The Esplanade said it would soon release more details on its fundraising plans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2017, with the headline 'Esplanade donor numbers a record'. Print Edition | Subscribe