It is with sadness that LPA advises the passing of David Blekinsopp CBE AM, yesterday (14 December), at age 77. David was awarded the JC Williamson Award for his outstanding contribution to the live performance industry at the Helpmann Awards in 2013 and was inducted into LPA’s virtual Hall of Fame as a result.
For 23 eventful years, David Blenkinsop nurtured and steered the Festival of Perth, taking it from a modest, locally-oriented event to an internationally respected annual multi-arts festival, offering some of the world’s best theatre, dance, music, film, visual arts, street art, literature and free community events.
Born in Leeds, Yorkshire, Blenkinsop graduated from the University of Leeds, starting his career as a reporter for the BBC Northern Region. From 1961 to 1976 he worked with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as Concert Manager and Concert Director.
In 1976 Blenkinsop migrated to Australia, accepting the appointment as CEO of the Festival of Perth, which had been founded by Professor Fred Alexander in 1953. Under Blenkinsop’s guidance, the Festival’s growth accelerated and its standing steadily increased, thanks largely to the links Blenkinsop established with companies and producers in other states, and to his personal international connections which enabled him to bring to Perth many leading and cutting-edge arts companies from around the world. Among Blenkinsop’s prestigious international imports were Compagnie Philippe Genty, the English Shakespeare Company, Trestle Theatre Company, Théâtre de Complicité, Grupo de Teatro Macunaima and Rustaveli Theatre Company. Asian theatre was included from 1983.
Blenkinsop also commissioned and premiered plays from local playwrights, and always included a substantial component of street theatre and outdoor performance. The vast range of his Festival offerings attracted a wide variety of patrons. His programming – sometimes audacious, always artistically relevant – took Perth patrons on an adventure, often introducing them to art forms they had not encountered before – from Perth’s own Black Swan Theatre Company to Peter Brook’s epic Mahabharata. Among his many innovations was the concept of inviting artists of note to design the Festival’s annual poster.
Blenkinsop constantly battled frugal state support and, at one point, rescued the Festival from looming financial oblivion. Ticket sales for his last Festival, in 1999, topped $3.2 million.
Blenkinsop received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Western Australia. He also served on the National Council of Musica Viva, the Confederation of Australian Arts Presenters, the WA Symphony Orchestra Advisory Board, Tura New Music, WA Schools Performing Arts Advisory Board, the WA State Theatre Board of Management, WA Academy of Performing Arts, The Gordon Reid Foundation for Access to the Performing Arts, Australian Bicentenary Commission Arts Board, Australia National Music Council, Confederation Australian Arts Presenters, and Confederation Australian International Arts Festivals. In 1996, he received the Sydney Myer National Arts Facilitator Award. Blenkinsop was also made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1993. In 1998, he was named WA Citizen of the Year for Arts, Culture and Entertainment, and was made a Companion of the Order of The British Empire in recognition of his ‘services to British Culture in Australia’.
David is survived by his wife, Lynn and children Philip and Andrew.
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