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Business to Arts winners: pivoting in partnership

Aerogen and Druid, Davy and the National Concert Hall show what can be achieved when businesses team up with the arts community

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Imagining Ireland at the National Concert Hall: The National Concert Hall and Davy took their Innovation Partnership to another level in 2020


The winners of this year’s Business to Arts Awards in the Best Small Sponsorship category, Aerogen and Druid Theatre Company, and the winners of the Best Large Sponsorship Award, Davy and the National Concert Hall, show how business-arts partnerships have the ability to adapt quickly to ensure continued success.

With the support of business partner Aerogen, Druid was able to respond to Covid-19 by pivoting its 2020 commission, DruidGregory, to an outdoor format, bringing world-class theatre into the heart of Galway communities.

DruidGregory toured 13 outdoor venues in Co Galway during September and October 2020, incorporating a new Education and Community Programme. This involved engaging with schools and communities in all of these locations and making the work of two great Galway playwrights (Lady Augusta Gregory and Tom Murphy) accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

“This partnership works because both organisations value and are inspired by their locality and the people who live and work there,” says John McEvoy, development and marketing executive at Druid. “When Covid-19 hit, Aerogen was confident that Druid would continue to focus on the original aspirations of the programme and work to ensure that as many aspects of the community and schools engagement would be completed.”

In fact, the partners agreed to bolster the programme with a deeper level of engagement with primary schools than was originally envisioned. “While, due to Covid-19, it wasn’t possible to live in local communities while creating the performances as originally planned, the programme still achieved an enhanced level of community engagement that will be replicated and developed in the future,” says McEvoy.

This included free performances and post-show discussion in five post-primary schools; teacher resource packs and educational activities; and performances and workshops in local communities around Co Galway.

Community impact

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Druid Theatre's Liam Heslin and Megan Cusack in costume, following a performance of, and a post-show discussion about,  On the Outside (by Tom Murphy (with Noel O’Donoghue)) in Glenamaddy Community College as part of the DruidGregory programme.

Aerogen became a business partner of Druid Theatre Company in 2019 and throughout that year the global medtech company’s chief executive, John Power, and staff members attended various Druid events and opening nights.

When Druid discussed its aspirations for an Education and Community Programme as part of its 2020 commission DruidGregory, Aerogen was immediately interested in the impact it could have in communities around Co Galway.

“In Aerogen, we place a high level of importance on corporate social responsibility. We have a role to play in supporting the local community and as such actively look out for partnerships that are aligned with our values,” says Ciara Power, global corporate communications manager at Aerogen.

“Druid’s Education and Community Programme was a great fit for us as it was bringing something positive to the community during a very challenging time. It was also great to be able to offer something to staff to get involved in, particularly at a time when there wasn’t much going on. We found it uplifting to support a programme that brought so much to the local community.”

Druid ensured that Aerogen was kept up to date on all necessary changes to the original DruidGregory programme and was very involved in the process.

“Working with John McEvoy and the rest of the team at Druid made this partnership much easier than we could have imagined,” says Power. “They embraced the challenges presented by Covid-19 and came up with a great programme of events that could go ahead in line with restrictions at the time.”

Innovating to reach new audiences

The National Concert Hall (NCH) and Davy took their Innovation Partnership to another level in 2020, helping Ireland’s national cultural institution for music transition to providing an unprecedented suite of live-stream concerts and digital content.

The "Imagining Ireland" series of 10 live stream concerts showcase the most exciting Irish artists at work today while “Where are we now?” allows both Irish and international artists a digital platform to reflect on the changes this year has brought.

“Although Covid-19 has presented many challenges, the National Concert Hall has endeavoured to stay connected with audiences while continuing to provide a platform for artists to perform during this time of crisis for the arts industry," says Helen Carroll, head of partnerships & philanthropy at the National Concert Hall. 

“This was achieved through a series of high-quality livestream concerts and online activities which, in our role as Ireland's national cultural institution for music, has allowed us to continually support artists while providing a way to stay culturally connected with audiences and the public during this time."

It is important that businesses are alive to the need to contribute to their communities

In addition to the live streams advertised through a media partnership with The Irish Times and on Newstalk and RTÉ Lyric FM, more than 120 pieces of press coverage were secured across national and international titles including the New Yorker.

“We activated this partnership through a series of Spotify playlists, a number of unique online events filmed in the NCH, and tickets to the live-stream concerts for clients and colleagues, supported by regular social media notifications and email communication,” says Emma Dixon, events and sponsorship manager at Davy. In September 2020, Davy and the NCH also launched “Davy Sound”, an innovative, collaborative project that commissioned Iarla O’Lionáird to create an audio identity for the Davy brand.

“The key mutual ambition of our partnership with the NCH since April 2019 is to support the delivery of cutting-edge live music experiences, featuring new and inventive ideas. This is in line with Davy’s own philosophy of championing innovation,” notes Dixon.

The judge’s perspective

For Business to Arts Awards judge David Molloy, a partner at Arthur Cox, the focus on delivering a partnership with creativity and a forward-looking approach is what impressed the judges about these partnerships.

“The theme of introducing contemporary genres and new Irish music to the NCH programme in a format that works during the Covid-19 crisis was timely, innovative and on the whole very impressive,” he says. “One of the key aspects of a successful business-arts partnership is that both the creative partner and business partner have a clear understanding of their respective contribution and the project’s objective.”

In the sponsorship categories of the awards, the judges were struck by what can be achieved when businesses collaborate with artists, creative enterprises and digital to bring projects to their audiences.

“It is important that businesses are alive to the need to contribute to their communities and adapt quickly to unforeseen circumstances,” says Molloy. “There is no better means to do this than through a dynamic, creative initiative which can engage audiences – either locally or as part of a project which is accessible in a nationwide format.”

The Business to Arts Awards recognise businesses, philanthropists, artists and arts organisations that develop creative partnerships. Entrants focus on arts sponsorship, commissioning of artist, staff engagement and CSR initiatives, philanthropy and community engagement.