Music Bowl lawn gets ‘sunroof’ in major renovation plan

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Arts Centre chief executive office Claire Spencer said they were “exploring how the facilities can be maintained to meet future presenter and audience expectations”.

“The Bowl is an important and iconic part of Melbourne’s cultural landscape and this is the early stage of a long-term aspiration for its future.“

It was a rare piece of good news in an annual report that exposed financial pain inflicted by pandemic lockdowns.

Ms Spencer wrote it had been a complex and exhausting year for her team as they “shuffled their lives, physically and mentally, to keep alive the spirit of live performance”.

“We have emerged a bit bruised but far from beaten,” she said.

The Arts Centre saw 1547 cancelled performances due to COVID-19 restrictions and refunded 49,476 tickets worth more than $2.2 million. More than 300,000 people attended performances at the centre, compared to 990,000 in the 2020 financial year and 1.4 million the year before.

Trading revenues for the 2021 financial year plummeted 77per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

To balance the books, the Victorian government tipped in $32.6 million in direct financial support, another $4.1m to restore its working capital fund, as well as $6.6m in project funding, most of which was for the summer’s Live at the Bowl season.

Next door, the National Gallery of Victoria also reported massive losses which were compensated by its owner, the state government, as well as a big philanthropic drive.

The gallery had set a target for the 2021 financial year of 2.3 million visitors but only managed to get 773,000 through the doors in between lockdowns: the gallery was closed for more than half the year. Most of those visitors were to the NGV Triennial exhibition over summer.

The NGV’s trading revenue slumped from $50 million in 2019 and $47 million in 2020 to $22 million in 2021. To pay the bills, the Victorian government provided $23 million in cash above the usual recurrent funding.

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However the NGV’s balance sheet is dominated by its art, known as the State Collection. In June valuers came to reassess how much it was worth: they came up with a figure of $4.18 billion, up more than half a billion dollars on the previous estimate.

Another annual report, for Visit Victoria, revealed how much the state government paid to attract the Moulin Rouge! musical, which is about to premiere, to Melbourne.

According to “related parties” disclosures, the government paid $825,000 in 2019 and $550,000 in 2020 to the show’s creators Global Creatures, as a contribution to the show’s huge production costs.