When the global pandemic struck Australia in 2020, the impact was felt across the country. Businesses everywhere had to shut their doors and go into hibernation. The arts sector was among the hardest hit, with live performances cancelled and very little opportunity to find alternatives for their programming.
Omega Ensemble was one of the many performing arts organisations that bore the brunt of lockdowns and border closures.
Their touring schedule was erased almost overnight, but they managed to survive the last two years thanks to a supportive community and sound financial management.
The ensemble is now looking at a full performance calendar for 2022 with shows in numerous NSW and Victorian cities. We talked to David Boyce, General Manager, and David Cervi, Director and Treasurer, about how the small not for profit organisation has grown over the years, their partnership with Accounting For Good and the exciting events coming this year.
Founded in 2005
Omega Ensemble is a small classical music ensemble founded in 2005 by Artistic Director David Rowden. Their mission is to “champion extraordinary Australian musical talent through high-energy and impactful performance.” Boyce explains:
“The organisation’s artistic and creative vision is to find a new relevance for classical music in Australia. This is based around our commitment to new work development and commissioning new works. A big part of our identity is ensuring contemporary Australian musical voices are at the forefront of what we present and all the work we do.
Over the years we’ve gone through a number of changes and identity shifts, but around ten years ago we focused on establishing roots with a committed and energetic Sydney based audience.
We experienced significant growth and our ambitions evolved to expand from being just Sydney based to touring nationally. This decision came from our sustained growth in Sydney, and we knew we wanted to take this next step. By 2020 we had changed the structure of the organisation and extended our ambition in order to grow our national audience… but then COVID happened.”
COVID and financial challenges
Despite having to cancel their live performances and put a hold on many of their projects, Omega Ensemble kept pushing forward. Boyce continues:
“Of course the pandemic impacted us, but we still wanted to continue trying to grow nationally. We had very limited opportunities to tour, but we did manage to complete one tour in each of the COVID years before borders closed. This year is the first time we are hopefully going to sustain national activity for the entire year!
For us, philanthropy has always played an important role in our sustainability, but when our box office income was wiped out for over two years it became our most vital support. We were incredibly fortunate to have the foundations of philanthropy to lean on… very lucky in comparison to other small businesses. But at the same time, philanthropy is closely tied to what the organisation is doing and the outcomes it can deliver… so when you are unable to do that for a long time, it becomes a big challenge to continue raising support.
Like many businesses, we underwent digital pivots but fundamentally we are in the business of live performance, which was virtually impossible.”
Changes to financial management
For many years, Omega Ensemble was reliant on the skills of internal team members – who had limited capacity – and their volunteer board members.
While they experienced a great deal of success, there were financial constraints on the organisation. Cervi joined the board four years ago and has been involved in the changes to financial management.
“When I joined the board, we knew that in order to continue the organisation’s growth, we had to transform the way we looked at its financial management. It needed to be restructured so that we could prepare for greater future success. We understood that we had to improve our financial management to ensure sustainability and to position ourselves to receive government grants and other funding.
Up until a couple of years ago, the organisation had survived – and thrived – without the benefit of significant government funding. It was heavily dependent on individual donor support and its own fundraising efforts.
But for the first time in 2019/2020 we secured substantial state government arts funding, in large part due to all the change that happened in solidifying the organisation’s management and financial structure.”
Partnering with Accounting For Good
As part of these changes, Omega Ensemble overhauled how it budgeted, costed, prioritised activities and implemented a new approach to financial success. Cervi continues:
“During the process, we looked at whether we could outsource our financial management, and we spoke with Kirsten Forrester to understand what it would look like to work with Accounting For Good.
Before we could make any decisions, COVID arrived and we battened down the hatches, but that initial conversation helped frame our thinking about how we could get to the point where outsourcing would be beneficial.
We have now been working with AFG for around nine months and it’s been an evolutionary process. We’ve completed our hand over and we’ve let go of many parts of the financial management operations. For me as treasurer, it enables me to be much more hands-off than I used to be.
As an organisation, our ability to continue growing and achieving artistic and operational success comes down to management and the artistic team creating and prosecuting the vision that is marketable to our audience. Of course, none of those things are within AFG’s control, but where we see the benefit is by having robust, systemised accounting controls in place.
It eases the workload and the mental load for us… not having to maintain accounting systems, payroll changes and budget reporting. The board can step back and look at a more macro level.
We have peace of mind from knowing it’s all under control – being looked after by professionals who will alert us to problems if they arise. That’s where it helps us to achieve growth. The board and management can focus on big picture stuff rather than the nitty gritty of the dollars or compliance.”
Touring in 2022
This year is already exciting with the ensemble just completing their first tour of 2022. They have shows planned for April, July, September and December and they are looking forward to performing for audiences around the country. Boyce says:
“It’s our vision to pick up our ambition and strategy from 2020 to expand… reconnecting with communities where we laid down our roots, but also building the next step by expanding and finding new audiences in new Australian cities.”
To find out more about Omega Ensemble’s upcoming performances, visit their website today.