AN average of $1.45 million has been raised every year by the Society for the Academy for Performing Arts. The society was established in 1989 with the idea of filling the gaps between money provided by the Government to help the APA meet recurrent costs and funds required for extra facilities and to provide individual financial support for students. Initially, it was not easy to solicit financial support from the community and corporate entities, said Anna Sohmen, the society's president. 'Five years ago, I would have to explain to people: they often had not heard of the APA and did not even know where it was,' Mrs Sohmen said. 'Now, I just mention the name and they know exactly what I mean.' Money has been raised through various means. The society's biggest events have included high-profile gala shows for productions such as Guys and Dolls, Grease, How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and, just last night, Die Fledermaus, to which the society invited about 150 business leaders. Of the $1.45 million, an average of $1.34 million a year has been ploughed into the academy, and the balance is put into a fund. The biggest single item of expenditure is scholarships. About $700,000 a year is given to talented students. 'There is a lot of talent in Hong Kong but arts are not put on a similar status in the territory as other skilled professions,' Mrs Sohmen said. 'So parents will break their backs to put their sons and daughters through law school or medical college, but they often will not give the same kind of support to their children who want to have careers in the performing arts. 'That is where the scholarships come in.' Mrs Sohmen is also vice-chairman of the APA Council, the governing and executive body of the academy. She said that, as well as catering for local aspiring performers, there were foreign students at the APA who were beneficiaries of society scholarships. 'Students from Singapore or Malaysia can usually support themselves but we have some very talented young performers from the mainland who would not be here if it were not for the financial support,' she said. The lead singers in the APA's opera productions over the past two years have almost all been mainland Chinese. As well as helping to furnish the library, which has more than 50,000 volumes, one of the most successful projects undertaken by the society's trustees has been a 'musical instruments library'. This contains quality instruments that students may otherwise never have the opportunity to play. 'You can buy a violin from China for about $3,000,' Mrs Sohmen said. 'But to get an instrument of reasonable quality you could easily find yourself paying between $30,000 and $40,000, or sometimes much more. The students simply cannot afford it. 'When they play these instruments, they often feel inspired and they find out what they are capable of.' The 'library' contains a concert grand piano, a harp and a collection of traditional Chinese instruments. The society has a travel budget of about $75,000 that pays for some of the students to attend events such as the Yehudi Menuhin Festival in Gstaad, Switzerland, or concerts at London's Barbican Centre. It has been with the support of the society that the academy has been able to strengthen its relations with similar institutions in China. Eighteen months ago, staff and students from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music were invited to visit the academy and give a public performance before Zhou Nan, the director of the Xinhua (New China News Agency). One important aspect of the society's work has been outreach to businesses. 'We help persuade corporations to finance the academy with projects like the recently completed electronic music centre, where students learn to compose,' Mrs Sohmen said. The APA's profile had been lifted in the local community in only a short time partly because of the way that graduates who started with the APA when it opened were beginning to have a visible effect on the performing arts community. 'Over the past five years, the APA has not only been put firmly on the Hong Kong map, it is now known throughout the world,' she said.