We need to talk about Arthur
Some questions for the arts and culture practitioners hustling for votes in the Arthur Guinness Projects’ scheme
Anyone working in the arts or culture will tell you that the most difficult aspect in getting an idea from A to Z is funding. Coming up with an idea is usually the easy part, but the cash that many feel is required to get the plan off the ground and realise all that buzzy ambition is much harder to come by, especially in these times of austerity and cutbacks. There are plenty of avenues to pursue – have a look at Derek O’Connor’s piece outlining some of these – and most schemers and dreamers will probably have a few more to add to that list.
It will not have escaped your attention that one large multinational company has been waving the promise of cash at all and sundry in this sector over the last few weeks. Chances are that your inbox and social media timelines are full of friends and associates (and friends-of-associates-of-friends) asking, begging, demanding, urging, pleading, beseeching and flirting with you to vote for their project which is in contention for some cash from the Arthur Guinness Projects campaign. It’s like the desperate chugging which goes on toward the end of FundIt and Kickstarter campaigns, but with you supplying clicks rather than cash.
On the one hand, it’s a very simple and laudable idea. The scheme will provide a wodge of cash (up to €50,000) and support to a bunch of projects in the areas of arts, music, sport and food. All the public voting that is going on at the moment will lead to a shortlist and the final decision will be made by various industry experts.
On the other hand, though, it’s a dastardly piece of very effective, smart marketing by the drinks’ brand. All the online badgering which is going on may be spreading the word about the various projects in contention for the cash, but it is also associating the drinks brand with the arts and culture in a much more positive and constructive way than, say, Arthur’s Day, the brand’s other big marketing wheeze in this area. And I bet it’s costing a whole lot less too than the talent bill for that one. All in all, it’s money well spent by the company to paint a pretty picture about their love and affection for the creative industries.
Leaving aside the huge issue about alcohol companies and social responsibility (have a look at Brian O’Connell’s Twitter timeline from yesterday for some interesting stats about the rise in ambulance callouts in Dublin and Cork on last year’s Arthur’s Day and there’s this piece around last year’s shenanigans) or the often corrosive effect of alcohol on creativity, the arts and culture industry’s embrace of this scheme begs some questions. Though it’s odd that very few of these folks seem to be asking these questions.
Are these project promoters so desperate for funding that they’ve bought into this campaign so completely that they’re doing Guinness’ PR for free? Remember, there is no promise of cash – this is not a sponsorship play. Did it cross their minds that they might be better off spending the same time and effort on finetuning their project rather than flogging Guinness for free? How many of the projects in contention actually require the cash to get up and going in the first place? Surely the need for upfront funding only applies in a certain number of cases?
How many of the projects won’t go ahead if Guinness doesn’t stump up? How many of those projects wouldn’t have gone ahead anyway because they were fishing for funding rather than trying to make a project happen? There’s no shortage of ideas out there, but the ideas which come to fruition are always the ones where there’s huge drive and ambition and the people involved are determined to make their schemes happen, come hell or high water (or funding).
I certainly have no problem with brands getting involved in the arts (it’s inevitable and there are many examples of smart, astute, healthy brand involvement in the sector), but this scheme is a much different kettle of sponsored fish. It’s a battle of the bands’ competition for the arts tied up in nice, pretty bows, a pre-sponsorship beauty pageant where the winner with the most mates gets to face another judging panel before the cash is handed over.
While it probably doesn’t have the same insidious terms and conditions of other initiatives of this ilk (come on down Vodafone Bright New Sounds), it does have the same grand design: get the people who want the money to spread the word about the brand for free. As we wrote here before, those using pester power to help themselves in this situation are not really doing themselves any favours. It also reinforces the idea that all these great ideas are in competition with oneanother and that there can be only one winner, which is surely not the point of art or culture to begin with.
No-one is denying that the arts requires funds, but few seem to be asking why this sort of shizzle has become the norm. In terms of promoting great culture, art and creativity, plugging the bejaysus out of a company who flog alcohol to the masses doesn’t strike one as the right way to go about this.