It’s a balancing act: Peter Kift on the fine art of arts finance

If Peter Kift had to write his autobiography it would be a mammoth task, but knowing how efficient he must be at time management and his ability to multi-task, it certainly wouldn’t be an insurmountable goal.

Peter Kift
Peter Kift. Image by Nadine Toussaint

He is an accountant with a Bachelor of Business and an impressive 30 years experience in the non-for-profit and government industries. However the newly appointed General Manager of Yirra Yaakin has had a prolific arts career as well.

“From the age of twelve I studied music and played the trombone for my high school concert band, which allowed me to perform regularly in Perth and also travel to the North West of WA, Darwin, Alice Springs and even New Zealand in my final year of high school. After graduating and delaying my university studies for twelve months, I travelled to Michigan in the USA to live with a family during 1979 under the International Rotary Exchange Student Program. Whilst there I immersed myself in the American high school culture of marching bands, pep bands, stage bands, school musicals, schoolplays and had the honour of singing lead tenor in the jazz choir for a period of time.”

Returning to Australia, Kift commenced his academic studies and although he played briefly in a brass group at University, study and the opportunity to undertake a supervised practical year took him into the workforce. “I began my career as an accountant doing audit and tax work,” he explains, “It gave me a sound grounding in many of my future roles and I have an ongoing fond appreciation of anything artistic; in fact, as an adult, I have begun collecting various forms of visual art works from up and coming artists from different cultures.”

[pull_left]It’s important that arts organisations are very aware and realistic about what they can and cannot provide, given the finite level of resources, both physical and human[/pull_left]Kift is a fine example of how those seemingly alien spheres, arts and finance, not only intersect but also offer a fertile breeding ground for developing future models for successful and sustainable arts practice. He is passionate about “developing financially sustainable arts organisations, without compromising their purpose for existing, through relevant, practical and robust financial systems and procedures, allows organisations to grow realistically.” Furthermore, Kift emphasizes “it’s important that arts organisations are very aware and realistic about what they can and cannot provide, given the finite level of resources, both physical and human.”

Having been involved with Yirra Yaakin since 2007, when he was invited to be a member of the Financial Advisory Committee (as the external accountant), Kift has enjoyed many of the companies performances over the years and was also on the selection panel which recommended Kyle Morrison be appointed the Artistic Director in 2009. “To be working alongside such a talented young man is certainly one of the most exciting aspects of my new appointment,” he enthuses. “My role also allows me to utilise my financial background in a much broader management role, where I can pass on my knowledge and expertise wherever I can.”

There are a number of new initiatives that Kift is looking forward to in 2013. These include the company’s venture to “work within a museum environment, presenting a living cultural experience to a younger demographic; heading out into communities through the Recording Stories program to engage and gather stories from the communities which pay respect to the past; as well as the Culture 2.0 program which looks to the future by engaging young people through the delivery of workshops to inform us what Aboriginal culture means to them.”

For Kift, Aboriginal theatre occupies a very unique position in the Australian landscape and explains that, for him, it is a means by which “every Australian (has the opportunity to) view ourselves beyond the realms of a nation obsessed with sport and be proud of our rich Aboriginal heritage.”

Yirra Yaakin's production of Shakespeare's Sonnets in Noongar.
Yirra Yaakin’s production of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Noongar. Image by Ashley de Prazer

Within a global context Kift points out that “like many Indigenous nations around the world, it’s about identity and ensuring that the rich culture associated with first nations of every country are recognised as an important part of the cultural fabric of a vibrant, inclusive and modern society.” In addition, “it is also the opportunity to tell stories that may not always sit comfortably with many people, but are stories that need to be told in order to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and make sure that they are never repeated (whilst ensuring) that we always deliver audiences a special theatre experience, whether it’s confronting or humorous.”

Armed with a strong vision for the next five years Kift is looking forward to what the future may bring saying, “I see us celebrating the past 20 years of existence. Consolidating where we have come from, acknowledging our wonderful communities, stakeholders and partners, and ensuring that the foundations of the organisation remain strong. [This will allow us] to continue presenting quality Aboriginal theatre; expand and develop more Aboriginal theatre workers within the wider theatre sector; and continue to connect with the communities whose stories we are privileged enough to tell through theatre.”

The cultural heart of Perth is sure to be heard resonating, not just in the state but across Australia, and if Kift’s charisma is an accurate yardstick then we can certainly look forward to some very entertaining, uplifting and insightful work from Yirra Yaakin.

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