Minister, business is playing its part


Private sector funding to the arts is far greater than the Minister, Séamus Brennan has suggested, writes STUART McLAUGHLIN, chief executive, Business to Arts

AT A TIME where public funding is under pressure, it is encouraging that The Irish Times is kick-starting the debate on the value of the arts and their relevance in society; a question that everyone working in the sector should be asking.

However, in the "Arts and the Economy" piece was an opinion that should raise concern. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Séamus Brennan, expressed an expectation that private sector investment in the cultural sector should represent multiples of the Government's own investment. Yet, this ambition comes at a time when there is no formal Government policy aimed at targeting business investment.

The minister suggests that Business to Arts put to him a figure of €4 million as the current level of private sector support. This statement is inaccurate - the last piece of accepted research into this area (conducted by Business to Arts in 2006 and currently being updated) indicated that the figure was approximately €15 million in cash sponsorship, plus at least the same again through in-kind support in 2005. We are aware that this investment has grown in the meantime.

Business to Arts, an independent non-governmental organisation, is the only cross-sector organisation charged with facilitating relationships between the business and arts sectors. Funded by over 110 business members and some 200 arts affiliates, Business to Arts welcomes the invitation to support the department in developing ideas in relation to developing support from the private sector.

It is our belief that there is an opportunity to encourage further investment in the arts by the private sector, but it is also clear to us that there is a requirement for structured policy by government to move current support to the next level.

Here we set out three researched initiatives which can make a real difference to sustainability in the cultural sector.

Philanthropy is one of the buzz words of modern society and does represent an opportunity for the arts in the medium to long-term. Critically, it must be understood that this is not a funding tap which can be turned on at will.

Consider that Ireland's third level institutions have perfected the art of seeking support from foundations and alumni over decades, and many charities have teams working specifically in this area. Put this alongside the issue that the major Irish philanthropic foundations support areas outside the arts, and the challenge becomes a long-term one.

IN ORDER TO address this, Business to Arts propose the establishment of a role specifically aimed at developing philanthropic investment in the arts, initially supported by public funding but with reduced reliance on the public purse over three years as expertise in philanthropy and associated income increases.

This public/private approach recognises the need to take a longer-term view on best practice and building knowledge to create a "philanthropic shared service" available across the arts sector, thus reducing the need for organisations to invest individually in skills that can be required infrequently.

Aside from philanthropy, it could be argued that sponsorship provides a more immediate opportunity for the arts in Ireland. Indeed, Business to Arts is increasingly approached by the private sector seeking sponsorship opportunities at a time when sports opportunities are out of the reach of many. If the arts are to take advantage of these opportunities, we must create an environment for success. We need to ensure that arts organisations are rewarded for successfully seeking private sector support.

In October 2005, Business to Arts first presented a scheme of leveraged funding to the department, proposing a grant incentive to encourage arts organisations to actively seek new income streams, while enabling businesses to achieve more "bang for their buck" in sponsorship terms. It is our belief, based on both local experience and international examples, that such a fund can enable increased activity between the arts and private sector.

An unintentional, but real, example of how a leveraged fund might work was illustrated by the success of the Dublin Theatre Festival's relationship with Ulster Bank. In 2007, an additional €200,000 of funds were set aside by Government for the 50th anniversary of the festival.

Alongside programming, this fund enabled the Theatre Festival to promote the event more aggressively and Ulster Bank was obviously a beneficiary of this (along with other sponsors). The ultimate winners were the public who gained greater awareness of the extended programme and attended the festival in greater numbers than ever before.

The festival is clearly a large-scale event, and the contribution in this example was very high compared to the more modest incentives that would be required for other arts organisations to engage more proactively with the private sector.

In addition, it is critical that a finite timeline be placed on this Government support for such an initiative, as the arts must work to ensure that the private sector, once engaged, remains committed as a result of the impact of their investment.

Finally, and importantly, if Business to Arts and the department is to make progress in relation to private sector investment in arts and culture, it is also necessary to invest in the skills required to manage and maximise relationships. The role of "development manager" is, all too often, missing from the list of job titles in arts organisations and where a development office exists it is frequently an off-shoot of marketing which is given limited resource.

BUSINESS TO ARTS is actively investing in enabling training for the cultural sector in core management competencies, including sponsorship and private investment seeking, and we call on the department to recognise the importance by increasing the investment in the specific skills required to develop this capability.

In the recent Arts and Culture Plan 2008 released by the department in February, the area of sponsorship receives no mention and philanthropy receives only a fleeting nod suggesting that a "position paper on arts, culture and philanthropy" will be published later this year. Our argument is "why wait?"

It is our belief that the department should move immediately in making an investment, and let us be clear that this is an investment, in the skills and capability around philanthropy and sponsorship, together with a medium-term incentive scheme for investment in the sector.

The cost of implementing the proposals in this plan would represent approximately one per cent of current annual arts, culture and film funding, with the unique opportunity to link this spend clearly to a financial return.

We in Business to Arts are well positioned and poised to take action and we call on the minister to join us in bringing sustainability in the arts and culture sector to a new level.