Gondwana Choirs on whole-of-organisation fundraising
Plus1 fundraisers Gondwana Choirs is a leader in Australian choral performance, shaping Australian sound through the creation and performance of innovative works.
The organisation’s fundraising campaign focused on providing opportunities for the choir such as world-class training and international touring. We spoke to Francis Geep from Gondwana Choirs about the organisation’s Plus1 campaign to take the Indigenous Children’s Choir on its first international tour.
What have been your top three achievements since you received funding through Plus1?
The major achievement was surely the logistical success of successfully organising the entire “Vienna Project” and its evolution from one tour into a multi-country/multi-choir collaboration in 2017. Participation in GICC is provided at no costs to its participants or their families, so for such an ambitious project, lots of planning and substantial additional fundraising efforts were required.
In May 2017, 23 young Indigenous singers from the Cairns region, some of whom did not possess passports prior to this, embarked on their first international choral tour. First stop was Frankfurt. The choir undertook a residency and its first European public performance at the European School, whose students represent more than 16 European countries.
The choir then travelled by coach from Maribor to Vienna, where the itinerary started with taking in the city’s sights before beginning the first stage of its collaboration with the Vienna Boys Choir (VBC). The week-long residency included joint rehearsals, masterclasses, repertoire exchanged and concluded with two public performances at the MuTh, the concert hall of the VBC.
Importantly, the performances featured an all-Australian program by composers including Luke Byrne, Alice Chance, Dan Walker, Paul Stanhope and Shellie Morris. They also introduced European audiences to Gondwana Choirs’ wonderful arrangements of traditional songs and dances from the Torres Strait.
The second major outcome was how the Plus1 funding gave Gondwana Choirs the confidence to build the collaboration between GICC and Vienna Boys Choir into something more meaningful and lasting. Stage two of the Vienna Project was to bring the Vienna Boys Choir to Sydney and Cairns in October 2017 for major concerts, “Songs of My Country”, at the Sydney Opera House and the Cairns Convention Centre.
They were joined by the Sydney Children’s Choir, the largest arm of Gondwana Choirs and a specially formed Gondwana Songfest choir of over 200 local young singers in Cairns.
“Songs of My Country” explored the cultural heritage of all three ensembles expressed through song. The Gondwana Choirs (Sydney Children’s Choir and Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir) performed all Australian programs that including texts in four indigenous languages. The Vienna boys performed works of Austria and neighbouring countries.
It wouldn’t be a Gondwana Choirs project without commissioning new work to form the centrepiece of the collaboration. Gimuy Walubara Yidinji Elder, Gudju Gudju shared his people’s story of Boori Guman (the first fire) and the three warriors tasked with bringing fire back to the community with Gondwana Choirs.
The sharing of this traditional story with young people from Cairns, Sydney and Vienna is most definitely the third achievement of the project. GICC and VBC spent an afternoon of great cultural significance with Gudju Gudju of the Gimuy Walibara Yidinji, the traditional owners of Cairns (Gimuy) at Copperlode Dam. This is the place of many sparks and the origin of the Boori Guman story, where the Rainbow Serpent can still be seen today in the form of a rainbow.
Owen Elsley’s colourful, joyful and optimistic setting of the story premiered at the Sydney concert and was repeated on its home soil of Cairns. The story was also made into a beautiful children’s book illustrated by members of the choir and published by Gondwana Choirs in time for the October concerts!
Do you believe that a whole-of-organisation approach to fundraising is necessary for long-lasting success in small-to-medium arts organisations?
Fundraising and growing our philanthropic base is imperative for Gondwana Choirs to be able to continue to deliver our world-leading creative programs.
A whole-of-organisation approach is logically the best method to ensure lasting growth and success in this area because it exponentially increases the opportunities to engage with existing and potential donors.
It starts with changing the mindset of being a small-to-medium company as a disadvantage (lack of resources, time-poor) to being advantageous (direct contact with donors, direct contact with CEO and Board, no doubling up on tasks and no competition between Marketing and Development.)
Looking forward, how will you approach fundraising in the future?
Gondwana Choirs received a Creative Partnerships Arts Fundraising Mentorship Program place for 2017/18 specifically to help us develop better long-term development strategies and their implementation. We are in the process of identifying our long-term vision and how to articulate this to donors who may connect in other ways than through artistic excellence. Stay tuned!
What’s one piece of advice you have for organisations?
The need for the project must be high – not necessarily the altruistic need, but the ability to implement what you are setting out to do.
The $50,000 Plus1 grant, in the end, was only a part of the entire Vienna Project and Songs of My Country, but it gave us the security to commit and bring on other partners as the project evolved.
How will the Plus1 funds leave a positive legacy in your organisation?
The legacy of Plus1 will be felt far into the future. Gondwana Choirs’ Artistic Director and Founder Lyn Williams saw this project more than taking a group of young singers on a tour. The project helped us commission music, develop deep ties with exciting children’s choirs in Europe and certainly gave life-changing opportunities to the young singers of Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir and the Sydney Children’s Choir.
What’s on your wish list for Gondwana Choirs in 2020?
2019 is the 30th Anniversary of the Sydney Children’s Choir and to mark this special event, we are planning an international festival of the world’s finest choirs for young people in Sydney for a week in July. The festival is bookend by gala concerts at the Sydney Opera House that will feature major new commissions and exciting performances. The Festival hub is at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and will be a hive of concerts, recitals, workshops, masterclasses and panel discussions. It’s a pretty large project for an organisation our size to take on but this is Gondwana Choirs – it’s time Sydney and Australia had the opportunity to experience just how exciting children’s choral music can be.
The 2020 wish list includes significantly increased engagement and support from Alumni as we build this potential base and a completed business plan with accompanying capital fund for our planned Gondwana Choirs School.
Watch Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir live in Birinyi by Luke Byrne, from Songs of My Country.