David McAllister, Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet since 2001, was one of six leaders honoured at the 2019 Creative Partnerships Awards in Melbourne last night for their work expanding philanthropy and business partnerships with the arts.

David McAllister at the Creative Partnerships Awards. Photograph © Sarah Walker

McAllister won the Arts Leadership Award for championing both philanthropic and corporate support for The Australian Ballet, notably his leadership in increasing donor engagement and overseeing The Australian Ballet’s hugely successful corporate relationship with Principle Partner Telstra, now in its 35th year.

“One always feels a bit of a charlatan taking an award like this on behalf of oneself, because it really is the organisation that is the winner of this award not me,” McAllister tells Limelight.

“[Philanthropy and sponsorship] has become such an important part of our whole business structure. It’s interesting because it’s always been there, since the beginning of the company, but really in the last 15 or so years it’s really grown to become a huge part of the revenue of the organisation,” he says.

In 2018, The Australian Ballet Group’s consolidated result was a surplus of $7.9 million despite a performance deficit of $18.6 million. The deficit (caused by production costs outstripping box office receipts) was off-set by $10.6 million of Endowed Donations, Bequests and Specified Purpose Donations.

The Australian Ballet has a strong philanthropy team, headed by Kenneth Watkins. “I think he’s recognised in Australia as one of the great philanthropy managers and a ‘major gift supremo’,” says McAllister.

“But both Libby [Christie, the TAB Executive Director] and myself have been very much a part of that process. [Former Executive Director] Richard Evans was the one who took [Watkins] out of corporate [sponsorship] and led him directly towards philanthropy and said ‘this was a great area and you’re going to be the one who’ll make this work’. So it really goes way back to 2002/3, but it’s always been Kenneth that’s led that process. My role, I guess, is really about being the conduit to the art, and being the public face [with the dancers] and other people that actually talk to all the donors and the sponsors. It’s those unforgettable moments in the theatre or being near the artists [at special events] that really makes that ‘giving’ come alive.”

Donors to TAB have the chance to meet the dancers and ballet staff at various events. “I think it’s been something that has become more and more a part of the everyday life of the ballet. And I think it’s a really fantastic thing for the dancers also, because they get to have relationships with these people who are really actively supporting and allowing them to achieve the things they want to do,” says McAllister.

On the corporate front, the relationship with Telstra have proved a hugely successful partnership, now into its 35th year. What’s more, the well-publicised Telstra Ballet Dancer Award has brought the relationship to public attention.

“I think that’s an amazing award,” says McAllister. “It does serve the dual purpose of celebrating the partnership with Telstra, but also highlighting those dancers and the relationship that corporate Australia can have to really enabling [the careers of young] artists. It’s a great a vehicle for the Ballet and for Telstra.”

One of the other philanthropic areas that TAB has been gradually building are bequests called a Planned Gift donated through a will to create perpetual income for the company.

“Having talked to people about this over the years it’s really inspired me to become a bequester myself as well. It is exciting to think that you can support something that you love beyond your life and also secure the ongoing financial stability of these organisations,” says McAllister. “I think it’s wonderful that people’s spirit still remains in the ballet world once they leave.”

In 2019, Creative Partnerships Australia announced a new award category, the Arts Visionary Award to honour someone who has made a significant contribution to the arts over a period of time, leading to a new understanding of the arts in Australia. The inaugural Arts Visionary Award was presented to John Kaldor. A dedicated collector, patron and supporter of contemporary art since the early 1960s, he has brought innovative, groundbreaking art to Australia through Kaldor Public Art Projects, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. In 2011, Kaldor donated his private collection to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The Business Leadership Award for 2019 was shared by Ian Kev, Chief Executive Officer for Airport Development Group Pty Ltd, and Helen Carroll, Curator of the Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art, managing Wesfarmers Arts which provides $2.8 million annually to the performing and visual arts nationally.

Dr Terry Wu, a specialist plastic surgeon and a passionate supporter of the arts, who currently serves as a board member of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and as a member of the Venice Council of the Australia Council for the Arts, was named Emerging Philanthropist.

John Gandel and Pauline Gandel, who have engaged in philanthropic giving for decades were honoured with the Philanthropy Leadership award.