Should art groups jump at private funds?
Private sector investment in the arts is more vital than ever as public funding has fallen by more than 25 per cent since 2008, but acceptance of this change is hard for some to take, writes SUZANNE LYNCH
EARLIER THIS month, some of the biggest names in Irish business mingled with senior figures from the arts world at an evening event in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Beneath the din of tinkling glasses at the awards ceremony for Business to Arts, an organisation that recognises and promotes collaboration between business and arts communities, it was the tinkling of money that was really on people’s minds. With public spending under pressure and consumer sentiment still weak, corporate sponsorship has become big business.
Once a form of arts funding that dared not speak its name to many in the arts world, private sector investment is now seen as a legitimate and increasingly necessary strand of funding for the arts. The reason for the shift is obvious – public funding of the arts is sharply down. Arts Council funding has fallen from €85 million to €63 million since 2008, a drop of more than 25 per cent.
As public purse strings tighten, attention has turned to the private sector as a potential funding source. At a Government level there have been conscious moves towards encouraging more private money into the sector. The 2011 programme for government contained a commitment by the two Coalition parties to work with the arts community to build private support of the arts either through philanthropy sponsorship or endowments.
In May Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan announced details of the philanthropy leverage initiative, a scheme that incentivises arts organisations to source private sector funding. Applicants to the scheme must match the state’s investment in their organisation with a multiple of private sector money – on average 2.5 times the state allocation.
With the State committing €230,000 in the pilot year of the programme, the aim is that €805,000 in additional private money will be raised.
In parallel, the Arts Council has launched Raise, an initiative that aims to help its funded organisations raise more money from philanthropic sources. Under the scheme, eight organisations will be given professional support to develop a fundraising programme. The winning organisations will be announced in the coming weeks.
The Arts Council is committing €100,000 to each organisation for the two-year programme; in turn the recipient organisation will be required to raise an additional €250,000 in private investment within three years, and a further €250,000 each year after that.
Initiatives such as these represent a novel approach to arts funding. They also mark a major change in the way the Government thinks about private funding of the arts. Historically, such funding in Ireland has been relatively underdeveloped, particularly in comparison to countries like the US. But, as Prof Tony Meenaghan from the Smurfit Business School points out, this is mainly down to historic cultural reasons. “Unlike Europe, where there has been a long history of public funding of the arts, in the US there has always been a tradition of private funding, mainly through philanthropy or foundations, stretching right back as far as Carnegie for example.”
Nonetheless, the arts world has generally been relatively slow at seeking private investment, particularly in comparison to sport, where sponsorship is accepted as a central strand of the funding model. As many in the arts are quick to point out, sport’s huge reach and popular appeal gives it a distinct advantage in attracting commercial sponsorship.
But there is also a mindset issue. Many arts practitioners are inherently resistant to the idea of commercial funding for a variety of reasons – from ethical concerns about the intrusion of commercial interests into the creative sphere, to a deeply held political conviction that it is the State’s duty to fund the arts.