Business to Arts brings the best of both worlds
It will be lucky for some as Allianz prepares for 13th year at the helm
Duke Special played with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at the Allianz Business to Arts Awards 2013 at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.Photograph: Conor McCabe
Monica Loughman performing among costumes from the Abbey Theatre Costume Department at the 2012 Allianz Business to Arts Awards at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Photograph: Ronan Healy
“When bankers get together for dinner,” said Oscar Wilde, “they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.” Wilde was never short of a good quip, but his particular genius lay in how he seldom missed his mark. Yes, the arts are supposed to be above considerations of filthy (or even freshly laundered) lucre, but as anyone involved in bringing a play to stage, a film to production or an artwork to exhibition will tell you, you can’t do it without cash.
When arts and business do get together to talk, amazing things can happen, and the Allianz Business to Arts Awards are the annual get together when the best of these are celebrated. Insurance company Allianz have been supporting the awards for 13 years, although the awards themselves go back to 1991, when Business to Arts itself was known as Cothú. Other partnerships are involved too: the Dublin Airport Authority has commissioned the award sculptures each year, and the roll-call of Irish artists who have created these special pieces includes Grace Weir, Felim Egan, Marie Foley, Fiona Mulholland, Alva Gallagher and Kevin O’Dwyer. Annual awards for commissioning, and for emerging artists are sponsored by TileStyle.
Group head of marketing at Allianz Damien O’Neill says that the involvement with the awards has been inspiring, “there has been no shortage or lack of imagination in what arts organisations have done, and what sponsors have come in on”. The awards are made across nine categories: from Best Large Sponsorship (over €25,000), through smaller sponsorships, long-term partnerships, creativity and staff engagement. “The sheer diversity of initiatives that take place within the wide umbrella of art forms means there’s a bewildering array of potential for any organisation to find the appropriate property, relative to what they’re trying to do,” says O’Neill, citing ideas from positioning, to PR and communications, to corporate hospitality (bringing clients and customers to a fun place).
Previous award winners bear out this point of view. In 2010, the Westport Chamber of Commerce and writer-director Len Collin won for Covies , an online soap opera set in Westport that used local cast and crew, and drew in the support of businesses across the town. The aim was to promote Westport as a tourist destination, and also as a film and TV production location. Covies is brilliant (you can still see all eight episodes online at lencollin.com), and it also won second-best online drama in the world on the We Love Soaps website. Other award winners that year included Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard and the Dublin Fringe Festival in the Event category; and Ahern & Co and Boyle Arts Festival in the Small to Medium Enterprises category.
Over the years, the awards have inevitably changed shape and pace. From black tie gala balls, where attendees paid for their tables in venues including Castletown House and the State Apartments; the ceremony is now held theatre-style in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. “We’re trying to create an environment where resources aren’t an impediment,” says O’Neill. “It’s now like a mini Oscars, and there’s very significant competition.”
Last year was the first year in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Master of ceremonies, RTÉ’s Áine Lawlor, was supported by singer Duke Special, the Acenturephonics Choir and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. A record 98 entries were received, with a total value of €7.84 million. Winners, receiving their awards from Arts Minster Jimmy Deenihan included (appropriately enough), Bord Gáis Energy for the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Best Large Sponsorship; Graffiti Theatre Company for the Community Art Prize; and Brown Bag Films and The Irish Times with Fighting Words, for Best Use of Creativity in the Community.
O’Neill says that Allianz are committed to the awards; they also support a similar initiative with Arts and Business in Northern Ireland. “It’s a virtuous circle,” he says. “Of course we also have a large portfolio of sports engagement, including the Allianz League, and while each is designed to do a specific thing, our support to the arts is very important to us.” That support has continued through boom and bust, to today’s tentative shoots of recovery, but O’Neill insists that the impact of the recession hasn’t been entirely negative to the arts and business relationship. “There’s a third force,” he explains, “and that’s community. I’m not sure if it was driven by the recession, it was there before it hit, but the recession has made it mature faster.”
Community engagement takes in projects like Covies , but it also brings businesses and arts practitioners together on a more personal level, where each may benefit from the other’s different skills, ways of thinking and approaches. And O’Neill points out that it goes beyond headline projects and large events to address more complex social and personal issues, such as Mundipharma’s support of Fishamble’s play The End of the Road , about the life of Bill, a patient in St Francis Hospice, Raheny, which was highly commended in the 2012 awards.
Put like that, the Allianz Business to Arts Awards are about changing those Oscar Wilde dinner conversations, and creating a better, more productive mix for all. “That’s what I love about this,” says O’Neill. “You’re going right through the spectrum, and the stories are just as good, just as passionate, just as wonderful at every level. It is truly fantastic.”
Nominations for the 2014 awards open in March. The shortlist will be announced in July, and the ceremony takes place in September.