Think of the circus and you probably picture a spectacle: a bright jumble of tightropes, flying trapezes, juggling and somersaults. But less visible is the wider circus community – the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to make this dynamic art viable for people of all ages and abilities.

“I don’t know a circus company that doesn’t have social circus at its heart,” says Jo Smith, artistic director of CircusWA. She’s referring to the combination of community outreach and determined inclusivity that defines local organisations like theirs, as well as world-touring titans like Cirque du Soleil.

“The community-building piece is fundamental,” adds Sarah Waddle, who’s in charge of philanthropy and partnerships for CircusWA. “You’ve got youth of all abilities coming into the big top and learning to work together and see what is possible. It’s so much bigger than the tricks and the flips.”

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CircusWA runs training for adults and children as young as two years old. Performers in ticketed performances are mostly aged between 10 and 21. The live shows bring together participants of all ability levels – current artists include non-verbal autistic youths and a young woman with severe ataxia, a condition that affects muscle coordination. The organisation also runs an outreach program with Indigenous youths, among other social endeavours.

“Circus sits on the fringes of the arts sector,” Smith says. “In any fringe-dwelling space, you’re wanting to enable and bring in everybody in that space. That is the engine behind circus.”

This year the company is staging a unique showcase of these efforts that’s been in development since 2022. B’Spoke is a performance combining circus, video and storytelling, featuring five young people living with disability who are part of CircusWA’s Level Up Circus Academy. It will be staged on July 4 and 5 at Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre before touring the country next year with a finale in Brisbane. The show is about a lighthouse named Walt, who isn’t like other lighthouses. But that turns out to be his greatest strength.

Staging a production as involved as B’Spoke wouldn’t be possible without generous donations from the public. As the end of the financial year approaches, CircusWA is once again partnering with trusted fundraising platform the Australian Cultural Fund. As a fee-free, arts-centred platform, the ACF passes on the entirety of donations directly to the artists, and all donations over $2 are tax-deductible. Artists and organisations at any stage can fundraise through the ACF, representing an opportunity for growth at all levels.

The ACF has helped to raise vital funds for multiple CircusWA projects, including its current big top in Fremantle. As with other popular crowdfunding platforms, there is a detailed explanation of where the funds will be used, along with a status bar to visualise the campaign’s progress. Once the organisation has shared its message with potential donors, the next step is ensuring that follow-through is easy and secure.

“The end point is clicking that button that takes people to the ACF site, where we know our donors can have a streamlined experience and receive their tax receipt,” says Waddle. “It has certainly helped propel giving by having this sophisticated platform. And it’s professional and trustworthy.”

“It gives us a much greater reach,” Smith adds. “Not many people can see us [on a large scale], so we couldn’t do a fundraising campaign successfully just on our website. We don’t have the administrative staff or the visibility. [The ACF] reaches another whole layer of audience, and when that audience puts their money in the platform, more people see us and start to talk about us.”

Beyond facilitating shows like B’spoke, fundraising enables CircusWA to maintain its highly specialised training programs. With an organisation of its size, an admin fee of even 10 per cent would be the equivalent of an entire year’s training for one child. The ACF’s fee-free support is invaluable for empowering kids through circus.

“I’m not sure how we could have pulled it off for all these years without this platform,” says Smith. “They’ve really been behind us the whole way through.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Australian Cultural Fund. Make a tax-deductible donation to support B’Spoke via the ACF before June 30.