As funding gets harder, what role for the State?
Government aid to continue but big need for philanthropic and private sources
The Lookout, by Brian O’Doherty, at Charles Fort for Kinsale Arts Festival. Photograph: John Allen
Heterotopic Glitch by Aideen Barry and Anne Ffrench at Kinsale Arts Festival. Photograph: John Allen
Fireworks on the bay at Kinsale Arts Festival. Photograph: John Allen
Rehearsals for WillFredd Theatre’s Care
The arts aren’t unique: everyone has seen cuts to funding, but as artists and arts organisations are told to raise more money from an already squeezed business sector, how are they going about it, and what supports are there? Plus does this spell the beginning of the end for government support for the arts?
The answer to that final question is a firm “no” from Arts Council director Orlaith McBride.
“The role of the State is to support individual artists and organisations to make things happen,” she says, adding that this is crucial because “there are different types of organisations doing different types of work, and some might be more appealing [to sponsors].
“We’re charged in legislation with supporting them, and we’re going to continue to do what we do.” Nevertheless, she also sees an urgency to increasing private and philanthropic investment in the arts.
A recently commissioned Arts Council survey showed Arts Council-funded organisations raised €5.742 million in 2012, which breaks down fairly evenly between sponsorships and individual support, whether through Friends schemes or philanthropic donations.
“In no way,” says McBride, “could this ever be seen as displacement funding. We wanted to increase private investment and support the sector; so how do you support the sector to develop practical skills, in a way that could also develop employment?”
One method is the Arts Council’s Raise scheme, now in its second year, which mentors participants, and provides them with a dedicated fundraiser. Acknowledging the difficulties, Kinsale Arts Festival Director Marie McPartlin is on the Raise scheme.
“Arts organisations are being encouraged to explore sponsorship to support their activity but its a tough nut to crack,” she says.
“The few sponsors with cash to give are looking to amplify their brand and for festivals on our kind of scale, there’s a ceiling to what we can offer.”
Nevertheless, she is also aware of the festival’s strengths, “where we do have an edge is with our location. Site-specific work, such as the projects we’ve commissioned at the historic Charles Fort, are bespoke to our landscape and can attract significant press attention, so that makes sense to sponsors.”
McPartlin is also keen to acknowledge the long-term support of Eli Lilly, “who have a real interest in supporting arts activity within the community”, but she is well aware of the need to be completely realistic in order to keep the festival solvent and sustainable.
“We have moved our dates from July to September this year, to give ourselves time to explore new avenues [with Raise]. I think by the end of 2014, we’ll have a fairly realistic idea of where the real potential for private income is for an organisation like ours.”
Over at WillFredd Theatre, producer Kate Ferris makes the point that alongside Arts Council support, “corporate partnerships are now part of today’s arts landscape”, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer for arts organisations: different companies have different approaches, on the arts side, as well as the business end of things. Citing the example of Ulster Bank, she praises those companies “who have a long history of supporting the arts, and really understand how we work and what we need”.
“Because of the way we develop our work, we don’t have a full script to show potential sponsors from the start. A lot of the work stems from interviews and encounters with the general public, so sometimes the script itself isn’t finalised until the last week of rehearsals.”
Helping to broker such relationships is Business to Arts, who work on both sides of the equation, giving training and advice to arts organisations, and also encouraging businesses to first dip their toes, and then plunge into the arts waters.
Chief executive Stuart McLaughlin is passionate about helping each group to see what working together can bring.
“People in the arts may take for granted what they have to offer,” he says.
He uses examples of the Abbey Theatre’s backstage tours, and Ballet Ireland’s “gifting” of blocks from ballet slippers (a pair only lasts for a single performance) as brilliant examples of understanding the value of what you have to offer.
Business to Arts are constantly thinking a step ahead of the current funding environment, working with companies new to Ireland, and new to the arts. Does McLaughlin see something brand new on the horizon?
Something to shake up how business and the arts get together? “We’re working on that innovation right now,” he smiles.