Inside Track Q&A

 

Stuart McLaughlin, chief executive of Business to Arts

Tell us about your organisation?

In a nutshell, Business to Arts is about making connections between the business world and the cultural sphere.

There are three main elements to our work – we connect business to arts groups, which includes helping businesses to identify sponsorship opportunities.

Secondly, we provide training and coaching to arts organisations that may want to increase their audience numbers, identify new income streams or improve efficiencies.

In addition we run programmes such as the Allianz Business to Arts Awards* which recognises successful business and arts partnerships and helps to showcase the work we do.

What sets your organisation apart from other groups?

We act as a good go-between between the corporate and cultural worlds. We don’t feel that we’re on the side of businesspeople, yet we’re not part of the arts world either. This allows us to move between both worlds and hopefully build greater understanding between the two.

Has the recession impacted on what you do?

Yes, like most people, the economic downturn has had a major effect. Because we are highly dependent on the support of the private sector, we were immediately hit by the downturn, losing about 60 per cent of our income in the last quarter of 2008.

We were already in discussion with some new supporters who, thankfully, came on board. Alongside this, a number of existing supporters such as Allianz, Dublin Airport Authority and Tilestyle remained committed.

In the end, it meant that we diversified our income and spread our risk.

How have you adapted to the new economic climate?

In many ways our work has become more relevant as businesses look for more impact from their investments, whether through sponsorship and philanthropic support. At the same time, arts organisations are seeking to diversify their income as traditional sources of funding come under pressure. As a result, we need to show the investments are having maximum impact and yielding results.

One example of this is the investment from Bank of America Merrill Lynch in our professional development programme for arts groups, New Stream. Over the last two years they have invested €300,000. In turn, participants in that programme have raised over €3 million, which they attribute to the skills and knowledge they gained. This is the kind of return we have to be able to show in the current economic climate.

We’ve also seen a change in the type of company investing in the arts, with more FDI (foreign direct investment) support coming to the sector and an increase in support for community and regional projects.

Why should businesses consider arts sponsorship?

Cultural events provide businesses with a platform to tell their story and to engage with consumers, as well as providing opportunities for staff and their companies to have fun!

When it’s done well you can see the impact that can be created – Absolut and the Fringe or Jameson and the Dublin International Film Festival are great examples. There is also scope to support one-off events or shows, or to become corporate supporters of cultural institutions.

Any new plans for the future?

We’ve just started a very exciting partnership with the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. We’re working with them to make their world-class arts management training available to 15 arts organisations across Ireland over the next year as part of our New Stream programme.

Alongside this we will be looking for Government to extend their pilot initiative designed to incentivise more private investment in the arts.

In conversation with SUZANNE LYNCH

* The winners of the 2012

Allianz Business to Arts Awards will be announced at a ceremony in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on September 4th

Cultural events provide businesses with a platform to tell their story and to engage with consumers, as well as providing opportunities for staff and their companies to have fun!