Melbourne International Arts Festival has announced its highest ever box office takings and paid attendances in the Festival’s 24 year history, defying tough economic times across all industries including the Arts.

The 2009 Melbourne Festival box office income of $2.6 million dollars represents the highest ever, with the previous highest in 1997 with $2.5 million.

Melbourne International Arts Festival General Manager, Vivia Hickman, says the 2009 Festival exceeded box office expectations with outstanding ticket sales, many sold out seasons and near-capacity houses. “Achieving the Festival’s highest box office in its 24 year history shows how strongly the city embraced the 2009 festival. This year we had some of the lowest ticket prices ever and major low cost programming initiatives. It has been an exhilarating two and a half weeks.”

The Festival’s free public openings across four nights, Strange Fruit’s Ringing the Changes and Transe Express’s Mischievous Bells played to over 25,000 people.

The Beck’s Rumpus Room initiative embraced new audiences with attendances of 11,500 over 11 nights in Melbourne’s iconic Forum Theatre.

Peter Greenaway’s multimedia investigation Leonardo’s Last Supper has been seen by thousands and continues through to 8 November with paid attendances of several more thousands expected over the next two weeks. Much of the Festival’s comprehensive visual arts program also continues beyond the Festival’s closure and final attendance figures for these will be available at the end of November.

Capacity houses were seen for many productions, including Körper and Medea; Uprising and In Your Rooms; Pornography; the London Philharmonic Orchestra; Le Salon; Black Marrow; Terminus; 13 Most Beautiful...songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests; Elemental; and at Beck’s Rumpus Room - Melt Banana; Fischerspooner; the triple bill featuring Palestinian hip hop crew Ramallah Underground, Beans (USA) and Australian Ro Sham Bo; and the closing night line up with Brazil’s Garotas Suecas and The Cuban Brothers.

Also sold out was the Festival’s closing event dirtsong, which played to capacity and emotionally charged houses receiving five minute standing ovations.