The importance of being altruistic: arts philanthropy in Scotland


Sutherland Hussey's design for Creative Laboratories at Edinburgh Sculplture Studios winner of the Edinburgh Art Prize

The collapse of the financial services sector and subsequent recession brought with it a decline in the corporate sector sponsorship which Arts & Business had so successfully encouraged and promoted and with which its name is synonymous.  A&B’s recent grant cut from the Arts Council and the indications that the Arts Council will take on the job of incentivising corporate and individual invesment in the arts means an end to all that.  The position of A&B in Scotland is somewhat different.  In common with many Scottish branches of London based UK national institutions, the  A & B Scotland division has a profile, position and  relationships which differ from the UK/London head office and, in common with others, the time may have come for it to break away from London. Its funding comes from Creative Scotland, Museums and Galleries Scotland and the Scottish Government and A&B is more meshed in with the overall cultural economy.

The profile and practice of much of last century’s commercial sponsorship jarred with large swathes of Scottish society. The big sponsors inevitably crowded in around the high profile events, festivals and city venues with facilities for canapés, champagne and other corporate entertainment. This has been fantastic for those in this sector but always, unfairly, made other less corporately-alluring arts organisations feel a bit of a failure.

In response to the downturn, A&B has been promoting a programme of private philanthropy, in what could be described as Arts and the Individual Investor. The individual is key to future support.  While arts organisations have focussed their professional resources on chasing corporate sponsorship, trusts and funds, many have neglected their committed communities, dismissing ‘friends’ organisations as tiresome amateurs.  Yet individuals and members of the audience may represent the most sustainable source of income for the next period. A&B are behind the arts strand of The Big Give, channelling government funds to match individual donations pound for pound.  The power of the crowd is being increasingly harnessed by other creative industries, most notably in films and in publishing, through crowdfunding, where individuals buy a stake in a creative venture. Whereas in movies, investors might hope to get a financial return on their investment, the motives in the arts will be altruistic, like those philanthropists in the New York Kickstarter web crowdfunding project which has generated some $20m arts, film and design projects.

Altruism is a key value in Scottish society and benevolence sits more comfortably for many than the boosterish bashes of high profile business sponsorship. Scotland has produced generations of philanthropists with a passion for public access to culture, from Andrew Carnegie who gave the US and UK libraries, to Robert and Nicky Wilson who have made the fabulous Jupiter Artland.  The latest altruistic artistic gift was unveiled last week without any song and dance at all, without help from governments, public agencies and the like.

An anonymous benefactor provided the £3m Edinburgh Art Prize  which was awarded last week to the Edinburgh Sculpture Studios for the Creative Laboratories designed by Sutherland Hussey.  The Creative Laboratories will allow space for artistic innovation and experiment, driven by ideas and not income targets.  The donor won’t be recognised at an A&B party, through a platinum membership or be plied with drinks at the interval.  In the best traditions of benevolence, he or she will be rewarded by the knowledge that this gift will allow experimentation and artistic development – and maybe the next Michelangelo to emerge.  We need to allow more discreet donations from individuals as subsidy declines and bring out the benevolent best in our communities.

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