Li Cunxin: 'Lack of funding has affected my health'

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Li Cunxin and Mary Li
Li Cunxin and Mary Li

 The article below is printed verbatim from the Queensland Ballet's press release.

Queensland Ballet’s Artistic Director Li Cunxin AO has used a company tour to Canberra to highlight the lack of Federal Government Funding for Queensland arts companies, labelling the current system outdated.

Speaking publicly in the Nation’s Capital, he even suggested that the lack of Federal support despite years of advocacy for funding parity between States and Territories, and the relentless pursuit of a sustainable world class ballet company in Queensland had contributed to his ill health.

Mr Li is calling for a fair distribution of Federal funding for the Arts in general, in particular for  Queensland Arts and Arts Training organisations.

“Queenslanders, particularly young Queenslanders, should not be disadvantaged because of old funding model or lack of transparency regarding how to access Federal funding opportunities.

“There are five dance companies in Australia.  Despite growing to being the second largest of the five, Queensland Ballet receives the least funding from the Federal government, even though Queenslanders make up 20% of the population.

“Over the years, this disparity has placed the company at a huge financial disadvantage compared to our peers in other States. We are fortunate that our philanthropic and corporate partners have leapt to the challenge, sharing our vision for Queensland. That’s come at a cost, and for me personally, I have no doubt it has contributed to the decline in my health as I have been single-mindedly stubborn in my belief that Queenslanders should not be disadvantaged.

“The Queensland Ballet Academy also receives no funding from Federal government which funds similar elite training organisations in New South Wales and Victoria annually. Recently, the Federal Government announced additional support for these organisations in NSW and VIC due to the impact of the global pandemic which is certainly deserved, but no funding was provided to Queensland organisations.

”Over the years, this lack of parity lays a great disadvantage over our Company, Academy and Queenslanders. It means we work harder to sustain jobs and opportunities for artists and arts workers, especially young people seeking pathways, because we believe Queensland deserves the same vibrancy that other States enjoy”.

Mr Li has lifted Queensland Ballet to new heights during his tenure, delivering unprecedented growth that could stand the Company in strong stead for years to come.  

“I feel a deep sense of responsibility to protect the legacy of the last 11 years of incredible impact and progress this company has achieved, and most importantly to ensure these programs, performances and talented people can continue to survive and thrive well into the future,” Mr Li said.

“The QB team and I have worked hard, hoping our achievements would be recognised and the Federal funding parity would follow, but in fact I think it has had the opposite effect, and this has ultimately taken a toll.

“If we had cut our cloth to fit our Federal funding grant, we would not be the Company we are today.  In the absence of parity, we have asked our philanthropic community to carry more than its share and this is neither fair nor sustainable. In 2022, 2.8% of QB’s income is attributable to our Federal funding with 42% of our revenue generated from philanthropic sources.  Whilst inspirational, this buffering from donors and partners is not a sustainable approach to secure the long-term future of the company.”

He said the matter needs urgent consideration to ensure the arts in Queensland can continue to thrive and excel for generations to come.

“Queensland Ballet has successfully supported jobs for artists, arts workers and ancillary functions including hospitality, against all the odds.  We have inspired over $135 million in private and public funding for significant infrastructure including QB Academy at Kelvin Grove, Thomas Dixon Centre at West End and our Roy and Nola Thompson Production Centre in Yatala. 

“We have contributed to the growth of the culture of philanthropy and corporate sponsorship in Queensland, and we have developed ballet not only as an artform and a viable career for young dancers, but also as a vehicle for wellbeing through our Health and Community Programs. We are much loved and respected by Queensland’s taxpayers and our peers around the world.   

Earlier this year Li Cunxin AO announced his plans to retire due to ill health. Li has been troubled by serious health concerns since 2022 and is having to step away at the end of this year to prioritise his recovery.

A letter outlining these concerns has been sent to the Federal Government.

State Government support made up a total of 20.13 per cent of Queensland Ballet’s annual revenue last financial year. Queensland Government has also supported the growth ambition of QB including through the investment in the development of the Queensland Ballet Academy (QBA) at Kelvin Grove, and significant investment in the Thomas Dixon Centre (TDC) redevelopment.

The Qld Ballet's Ballet Master, Matthew Lawrence, pays tribute to Li Cunxin and Mary Li in the current print issue of Dance Australia. 

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