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Literature ventures making their presence felt beyond words

These winners at the 2021 Business to Arts Awards have made literature and reading more accessible to people of all ages

The winners of the Best Philanthropic Support to the Arts Award at the Business to Arts Awards 2021, the Naughton Foundation, and winner of the Judges’ Special Recognition Award supported by Accenture, Children’s Books Ireland, have made reading and literature more accessible to people of all ages

The winners of the Best Philanthropic Support to the Arts Award at the Business to Arts Awards 2021, the Naughton Foundation, and winner of the Judges’ Special Recognition Award supported by Accenture, Children’s Books Ireland, have made reading and literature more accessible to people of all ages.

 

Martin O’Sullivan, deputy director of the Arts Council and a Business to Arts Awards judge, has welcomed the introduction this year of the Best Philanthropic Support to the Arts Award, which went to the Naughton Foundation for its support of the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI).

“As the Arts Council continues to create and embed a culture of sustainable giving to the arts sector, we see this award as well-timed to celebrate and acknowledge all philanthropic giving in support of the arts and recognise the extremely valuable contribution it makes,” says O’Sullivan.

“The Naughton Foundation’s substantial financial support enabled the MoLI project to be realised, ultimately delivering a major cultural institution that pays homage to James Joyce and is a much-needed physical focal point for Irish literary life, which is fully accessible on all floors,” he says. 

O’Sullivan notes that Ireland is known for the brilliance of its literature and Irish writers continue to win fans the world over. “Recent evidence of this was seen during the inauguration of President Joe Biden when lines from James Joyce and Seamus Heaney formed a central part of the ceremony. But underneath all of this is the reality that without public subsidy and private support, it would be impossible for the majority of writers to make a living from book sales alone. This is why it is most fitting that we honour and celebrate MoLI and the generosity of the Naughton Foundation,” he says. 

Visionary donation

Founder of Glen Dimplex, Martin Naughton established the Naughton Foundation with his wife Carmel in 1994 with the objective of supporting worthwhile causes for the public good on the island of Ireland, mainly in education and the arts. “We have always been interested in arts and literature and strongly believe that education is the key to helping a lot of people,” says Naughton.

In 2010, the National Library of Ireland (NLI) and University College Dublin (UCD) were exploring the idea of a creative alliance bringing two unique assets together – the NLI’s James Joyce collections and UCD’s historic property Newman House, where Joyce himself had studied.

When this idea was put to the Naughton Foundation, the Naughtons believed in the project and agreed to fund half of its estimated cost. “We felt that if Joyce had come from any other city in Europe, avenues or public buildings would be named after him as he is globally admired as a great writer,” says Naughton. “As there are so many fine writers from Ireland, we then thought should the project not be extended to be a museum of literature generally.”

The Naughtons embraced the vision for the MoLI and helped to expand on it with their suggestions. “We wanted to make sure it added to the cultural life of Dublin and Ireland and was a family-friendly place to go – not just displays in bookcases,” says Naughton.

The MoLI opened to the public in September 2019, attracting nearly 40,000 visitors and a digital audience of nearly 500,000 internationally within six months. It has broadcast over 80 podcasts in collaboration with living writers, publishers and academics and presented five contemporary exhibitions in its 10,000 sq ft space.

Multi-partner model

Children’s Books Ireland (CBI) has found a strong mix of business partners that allows it to turbocharge its reach and accelerate on achieving its targets, according to Business to Arts Awards judge Etain Seymour, marketing and communications director at Accenture.

“A multi-partner model allows CBI not only to host competitions and workshops, but to donate books and increase the volume and scale of its vision. CBI wants to get every child in Ireland reading and that is a difficult thing to do if you just concentrate on one partnership,” says Seymour.

“CBI has been strategic in its outlook by bringing its business partners on long-term journeys that have included awards, workshops, donations, volunteering and keeping the vision alive over many years – not just on World Book Day.”

What really impresses Seymour is CBI’s ambition beyond literacy alone – the way it also focuses on societal issues that businesses have a role in addressing and inspiring our children to build a better future.

CBI’s initiatives to address the need for gender diversity strike a chord with Seymour, as this is an area that has long been championed by Accenture. “CBI’s various partnerships highlight inspirational role models and create exciting activations that harness the imagination of a child being a character in a book through to workshops and workbooks. The activations are practical and ultimately instil a sense of diversity and inclusion that will help shape the minds of children and make them better adults.”

Continuing momentum

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Children’s Books Ireland’s (CBI) multiple business partnerships continued to flourish in a meaningful way.

“When families were restricted during Covid-19, our partnership with An Post, the ImagineNation playbook, brought together Ireland’s leading authors and illustrators to reach out to families, encouraging children to read, write and be creative,” says CBI director Elaina Ryan. “It was delivered by An Post to 85,000 households and to direct provision centres, homeless services and the Children’s University Hospital in Temple Street.”

On top of this, 115,000 copies were included in The Irish Times and the playbook was free to download. The Community Foundation for Ireland supported a further 15,000 copies with colouring pencils for children most in need.

KPMG has worked with CBI on a bespoke volunteering initiative since 2018. The Bold Girls workshops aim to start conversations about equality using children’s literature featuring strong girls and women.

“Developing this idea to team up with 20x20 last year made it easy for schools to continue having essential conversations about equality for girls and women – this time providing books about women in sport, a video from Jacqui Hurley and activity sheets for teachers,” notes Ryan.

One of CBI’s other partnerships, the Ecclesiastical Movement for Good Award from Ecclesiastical Insurance, enables CBI to gift books to children aged nine to 12 in areas of need, while the Bookbag project with Brown Bag Films builds a buzz around reading and encourages a whole-school reading culture. William Fry’s support allowed CBI to gift libraries of selected books to three primary schools. Through Rethink Ireland, CBI is benefitting from non-financial supports such as a facilitated peer support network.

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.