Fundraising frustration? The Minister has a wizard scheme


CULTURE SHOCK:The Budget confirmed what we already know: that we have the most philistine Government in the history of the State. There is a deep crisis in the funding of the arts. But not to worry. Arts organisations are going to fundraise their way out of trouble. This is true not just for private artistic companies but even for national cultural institutions.

Minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan wrote in The Irish Times on Monday that his wizard scheme of abolishing the independent boards of the National Library of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland and replacing them with an advisory council will enable them to “raise funds independently of the taxpayer”. The council will have, in the Minister’s tellingly mangled English, “an outward-facing role in seeking philanthropic support for these institutions”. The outward-facing role of our artistic and cultural institutions will be an outward-extended arm with a begging bowl at the end of it. The new narrative is that private generosity will replace public support.

But even if this were a good idea, would it be remotely plausible? Let’s do some sums. The department is under orders to cut between 15 and 20 per cent of spending between this year and 2014. This is on top of a cut of 21 per cent since 2008. (The arts and cultural institutions have lost €24 million a year in public support since 2008 and are due to lose another €8.6 million by 2014.) So let’s assume that, over the course of the “austerity” programme, the funding of arts and cultural organisations is cut by an average of 20 per cent. What are the chances of that being made up by private funding?

Income from fundraising currently accounts for just 3 per cent of the income of Irish arts organisations. You don’t need to be a mathematical genius to see that this proportion would have to increase sevenfold to make up for the losses in public support. How realistic is that? The best form of private funding for the arts in other countries comes from trusts, endowments or foundations that are not commercially driven and that are prepared to fund long-term programmes. But there are very few such bodies in Ireland. Just 4 per cent of Irish private funding for the arts comes from a trust, foundation or endowment. Unless there is a range of such bodies out there that no one has ever heard of, the potential for these kinds of partnerships seems very limited.

What’s left, then, is largely short-term business sponsorship. What do businesses want to sponsor? Not, for the most part, difficult and controversial art. The best breakdown of arts sponsorship in Ireland is a Deloitte report for Business to Arts, which looks at activity in 2006-7, when boomtime money was being flung around with gay abandon.

Even so, the amount of sponsorship was quite small: €13 million. And 55 per cent went to festivals, events, arts centres or venues. Most of the money for the performing arts went to opera and “music” (I suspect much of it for rock concerts). Theatre got just €300,000; poetry and literature €100,000; museums and libraries another €100,000. There is simply no evidence that, even in the good times, there was a pot of private gold waiting to be raided by arts organisations.

The other possible source of private money is the generosity of wealthy individuals. Again, the Deloitte report is not encouraging. The total given in 2006-7 was just €2.6 million, of which just 18 per cent went to theatre and the visual arts.

The evidence suggests that there is scope for raising private money if you’re running a high-profile “event” or festival, or if you’re in an area, such as opera, that is attractive to what the banks call “high net worth individuals”. Sponsors (reasonably, from their point of view) like stuff that makes a big splash, gets their brand into the media and appeals to their “target demographic”. They don’t particularly want to be associated with slow, difficult, uncomfortable work. And this is the biggest problem with the notion that private funding can replace public money. Even if it can be made a reality, it can skew the nature of how arts organisations work and what they do.

The fact is that most Irish arts organisations are very small. More than half have between one and five full-time employees. Raising private funding makes huge demands on the energy of such bodies.

Fundraising, paradoxically, is itself an extremely expensive activity. This summer, the Arts Council launched a scheme aimed at getting eight of its client organisations to raise €250,000 each in philanthropic donations. In order to do this, it is giving each of those organisations €100,000 to help pay for their fundraising. But this is to include “50 per cent of the cost of a suitable qualified fundraiser funded for a two-year period”. The other 50 per cent, clearly, has to be raised by the organisation itself. A significant chunk of the money raised will be swallowed up by the cost of raising it. More insidiously, the need to raise private funds changes the relationship between arts bodies and the public. Art ceases to be about citizens and becomes more about sponsors.