Increasing private philanthropy to the arts needs new channels

 

Abandoned Champagne from gadgetdan's Flickr photostream

As cultural leaders voice the well made arguments as to why public funding of the arts is such a brilliant return on investment and why miniscule spending delivers maximum value for the UK’s cultural, creative, social and economic health and success, DCMS has put out a call for evidence. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into arts funding asks a series of questions about public funding and structures and also hones in on questions about private giving:

  • Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level;
  • Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations.

Philanthropy should be seen as an addition to public funding and not as a subsitute. Simplifying gift aid, tax incentives for life time gvings are areas which many cultural leaders and philanthropists will advocate. But the tax incentives are not enough in themselves to create a sustainable income stream which will support the arts for years to come.  The last three decades have seen corporate and  private giving to the arts firmly established as an elite sport for the top echelons of society.  The great corporate sponsorships of the nineties were largely from banks, financial institutions and corporates who were happy to part with cash in return for an association with an arts organisation of similar rank.  Hence the lion’s share of sponsorship was to opera and dance companies, orchestras and national institutions where the wine was reliable and so was the performance.     But the flirtation between many arts and corporate brands is over.  The financial institutions, humbled after the crash, can scarcely justify champagne in the grand circle bar to their shareholders in these straitened times.  And the recent rebellion by artists about Tate’s acceptance of  what they saw as BP’s dirty money demonstrates its a two sided stand-off.  Arts and Business , so long identified as a match maker for high powered arts institutions and business as well as  holding some big parties for its awards, was quick to point out the negative impact of the financial crash on arts organisations and to switch tack to encourage private philanthropy.

But the world of private philanthropy is no less elite. Apart from the great individual philanthropists, many of whom have their own trusts, there are  ‘high net worth’ individuals who are listed in programmes as members of Golden Circles and Platinum Clubs, names of clubs which resonate with the world of finance and credit cards.  Most of these donors benefit from gift aid and tax relief on their charitable donations. 

But the number of regular donors to the arts is small and most of them are associated with prestigous arts organisations where the risk of artistic or financial failure is low.  The larger arts organisations also tend to be those with board members with contacts, expert development departments and a track record.  They are also those best equipped to weather the storm where public funding will decline.

What we mostly worry about at this time is the small arts organisation and the individual artist whose risk taking work drives the whole creative economy, what would be called the the research and development arm in other industries.  As local authority expenditure and national arts agency money declines, these are the ones which will suffer.  And currently, there are few routes by which these independent artists can attract any private philanthropy. There are a very few prizes and awards, most are for short term projects and most for a very short time scale but even these are few and far between. And they tend to focus on newcomers, or on young artists.  NESTA used to fund artists fellowships before it dropped the A from its central mission and limited investment in arts innovation to supporting organisations and research rather than individual artists.

But there are many individuals who would like to give to the arts, to support risk taking and experiment and who dont necessarily want to be a part of a gold circle or a club or indeed be associated with a single institution.  They dont necessarily have the will or skills to make a choice about where and how to give. But they would like to support, say, the development of new work or, provide a hardship fund for those in need because of the instrinsic value of the arts and the critical need to support independent artists who may or may not fail but whose innovation is essential to drive the creative economy. 

We need independent managed funds, for people to gift funds where they are not looking for recognition and where they want to support research, or well being of artists.  An independent fund could complement public funding and could be low cost to run, without parties and a big office.  But this cant be a public body, tied up with delivering outcomes. Some trustees, a few types of funds, and some administration – its not rocket science. And yes, extending tax incentives would help.

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2 comments
  1. Anne
    I feel that the view in your piece on corporate sponsorship may be somewhat from a London perspective or a past time in Scotland. Our Scottish match funding scheme that has encouraged new business sponsorship over the last 5 years has seen a whole raft of smaller businesses from a wide ranhge of sectors sponsor the arts across Scotland. And the bulk has been towards activity that aims to widen the audience and participants in the arts. Yes, national organisations do well, but recent successfukl significant sponsorship raising by small organisations such as Moray Arts Centre or Sounds of Progress shows that business is looking for a wider range of opportunities. Even with existing sponsorship some of the biggest are in traditional music, literature, and pop festivals rather than opera and ballet as was more the case 15 or so years ago. So I’m far from seeing philanthropy as replacing sponsorship but rather think the arts can benefit from both. The terrific individual giving by a wide range of individuals (and many on low incomes) to the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery shows that the right ask can bring a good response and I believe that the arts can gain more from that from of giving.

  2. Barclay
    you illustrate some of the successdul work Arts and Business has done in Scotland -
    “the bulk has been towards activity that aims to widen the audience and participants in the arts”
    My proposal is for a vehicle for individuals to support work, individuals and organisations who dont have the wherewithall to make the case for sponsorship. Supporting research, innovation and risk is essential as the R and D of the creative economy – and this work might not increase audiences nor offer the connection with local heritage and civic pride so manifest in Kelvingrove.

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