Outgoing Artistic Director Calls for Arts Funding Parity for Queenslanders


Li Cunxin AO

Li Cunxin Retiring Due to Health Issue

Queensland Ballet

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to highlight the lack of Federal Government Funding for Queensland arts companies, labelling the current system, outdated.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.

Growth over the past 11 years

  • A world-class ensemble of 48 dancers – doubled since 2012.
  • A world-class young artist annual apprenticeship program of 12 dancers – the Jette Parker Young Artists Program
  • Increased employment from 151 staff (2012) to 280+ artists, arts workers including full-time, part-time and casual workers (zero redundancies during COVID)
  • Growth in participation across our education and community engagement programs throughout Queensland from 12,153 in 2015 to 33,000+ people in 2022.
  • Construction of a world-class ballet Academy in its standalone, dedicated home at Kelvin Grove State College
  • The foundations for a world-class Production facility, the Roy and Nola Thompson Production Centre at Yatala, Gold Coast
  • A world-stage repertoire that includes works usually reserved for leading lights such as The Royal Ballet, co-productions with peer companies around the world and exciting new commissions.
  • Redevelopment of the Thomas Dixon Centre into a world-class center, home to Queensland Ballet, second home to our Academy and a cultural hub and destination for people of all ages and abilities
  • Annual turnover increase from $8.7million in 2012 (pre my directorship) to $28.2 million in 2022 (audited accounts), demonstrates that the economic contribution to Brisbane, Queensland and Australia is significant.


Li has generated a world class ballet company for all Australians to enjoy, which tours regionally, nationally and internationally. The standard of the company is widely celebrated within the World Arts community.

Director of The Royal Ballet Kevin O’Hare praised Mr Li for his strong leadership qualities.

“Over the last decade and more, Li Cunxin has transformed the Queensland Ballet into a world-class company with a vibrant repertoire and brilliant ensemble of dancers. With his passion, artistic integrity and fearless energy, he has been a powerfully positive advocate for ballet in Australia and a dynamic force for dance worldwide. I have long admired Li – first as a dancer, of course, and then as an artistic director who has led his company with zeal, commitment and compassion to such great heights. It is a bittersweet moment that he has decided to step down for personal reasons, but his legacy is there for everyone to see with every performance the Queensland Ballet continues to give,” he said.

Lady Deborah MacMillan of the MacMillan Estate:

“It has been wonderful to watch the development of the Queensland Ballet under the Direction of Li Cunxin and his wife Mary. Queensland Ballet has presented two full lengths [ballet’s] by Kenneth and several 1 Acts, and each time the performances have been of a superb standard. Not just the dancers and the quality of their dancing, and their passionate approach to their work; but everyone associated with the company seems inspired by the leadership. If only all ballet companies were the same,” Mrs MacMillan said.

Australian Film Director Baz Luhrmann and his wife Catherine Martin:

“Li Cunxin’s impact on the creative landscape of Australia will be felt for years to come. His decade at the helm of Queensland Ballet exemplifies the world class arts and culture that has transformed our region into one of the most exciting places globally today. Li has always had one eye on tradition and the other very much on the future. Though personal reasons have compelled him to prioritize his health at this time, I know he’ll continue keep a keen eye on helping the next generation of ballet in Australia to flourish with the same global vivacity that has been the hallmark of his tenure. In our four years of living and making our own work in Queensland, it has been a privilege to count Li and Mary as creative compatriots and friends.”

Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet, David Hallberg:

“Over the past 11 years, Li has made Queensland Ballet a company that Australians have great pride in. From his choice of resident choreographers, to his guest teachers, and lastly the incomparable Thomas Dixon Centre, his ambition paid off through the result of quality on stage and behind the scenes. I applaud Li, Mary and their entire team for representing the best that ballet is in Australia and for being a true friend and collaborator. My utmost congratulations to what he has accomplished,”  Mr Hallberg said.

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