PAM NAIRN is an East Freo chemist and chair of the Circus WA board. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED she responds to criticism about council support for the school, arguing its survival is in the port city’s best interests.
AS Chair of the CircusWA Board (AKA the WA Circus School) I would like to respond to Andrew Luobikis’ letter (Herald, January 16, 2016) and allay some of his concerns. In giving a grant to CircusWA the Fremantle council is not “blindly voting away council and ratepayer funds”.
The council requires an independent audit of CircusWA’s books before it goes ahead with this grant. We are in fact able to pay our tax bill, but with the reduced income we have seen in recent years our reserves are very low and we would not have been able to deliver our January holiday program, and perhaps would have had to close.
It has been a tough few years for arts organisations, and not just in Fremantle. Most are under extreme financial pressure and some are closing. We are unusual among arts organisations because we do not receive any ongoing local or state government funding.
Our operating costs are mostly covered by running our circus classes and by providing workshops to corporate or community clients. We apply for grants from government agencies such as Healthways or Lotteries, as do similar community groups like sporting clubs and P&Cs. We use the money for things like equipment. We are mostly self–supporting however, and one of the reasons we were successful in receiving this grant was because we have not received this sort of financial assistance from the council before.
If CircusWA was to close in Fremantle our community would be the poorer. WACS and its predecessors have been based at the Old Customs House in Phillimore Street for 25 years. The Old Customs House is the only dedicated circus training space in WA. It supports the circus school and is a space used by both professional and aspiring performers to develop acts and refine their skills.
The circus school is why the Street Arts Festival happens every Easter in Freo and not in Leederville or Northbridge. Circus is good for local business and brings money into the economy.
The Perth Fringe Festival is also a showcase for CircusWA. The first Fringe program was full of acts from performers associated with the CircusWA training space: some had learned their skills at the circus school from a very young age. Perth Fringe is now the third largest fringe festival in the world with many overseas circus acts, but CircusWA and the locals still feature very strongly.
Circus is a wonderful blend of artistry and physicality but without the competitiveness that comes with most sports. And there are so many different aspects to circus — you can develop a professional career, or join a class to master a new skill, keep fit or enjoy the social interaction. We also provide access to all sectors of the community with circus scholarships for disadvantaged youth, and outreach workshops to areas all around the state.
We draw students from all over the metro area and have a strong and active community of more than 200 children and adults. Many of our students have gone on to train at prestigious international circus schools like the Montreal National Circus school, and Ecole Superieure Des Arts Du Cirque (Belgium) or joined troupes like Cirque du Soleil, Circus Oz and No Fit State (Wales).
This grant from the council is a good investment for Fremantle.
Although we have had a few very tough years, things are turning around. Demand for circus is increasing and we have a realistic financial plan to make us more secure. Visit our website circuswa.com and look at what we offer. You can book a workshop for your business or community group, or a circus birthday party. Check out the video on the website from our sold-out recent show, Faerials. It is beautiful to watch, but even more amazing to be one of the performers. We truly do cater for all ages and abilities from toddlers to the middle-aged. Come and try us out.