Colin Tweedy calls for business sponsorship of the arts to be nurtured again, particularly outside London where private, philanthropic donations cannot be relied on.

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Is arts sponsorship dying in the age of austerity? The short answer is that we do not know, as the annual survey that has for over 30 years tracked private sector investment in culture stopped in 2012. The Arts & Business Private Sector Investment in Culture Survey was not just the most authoritative source of information on the way that the private sector engages with the cultural sector, but was also a rare, longitudinal study on how that support has changed over the years. It is unique in the world.

So why has it ceased? When Arts & Business (A&B) had its funds withdrawn by Arts Council England (ACE) in 2011 and it became a part of Business in the Community, there was no funding to continue the annual survey and ACE and the DCMS declined to continue the survey. ACE literature in March this year is still using the last A&B figures of three years ago. Are the powers that be trying to hide something, are they really unable to fund the survey or are they merely incompetent?

The problem is that rich personal donors appear neither to live nor be attracted to the arts and culture outside the capital

Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister, has always maintained that he wanted ACE to be a ‘one stop shop’ for the arts. I am not sure what role he saw A&B performing under the coalition government. Ironically, it was the government of Margaret Thatcher in 1984 that singled out A&B (under its former name ABSA) for funding and administering the arts sponsorship matching grant scheme that saw £1bn of new money coming into the arts. The then government saw the logic in a private sector body promoting business sponsorship, rather than a public sector quango. I would argue that that logic is still sound. I, for one, was taken by surprise that the new government took a different view. And did the new policy work?

After the 2010 election the new Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt said a key focus was promoting philanthropy, and the words ‘arts sponsorship’ were never mentioned. At a push the phrase ‘corporate philanthropy’ was used. I failed to get anyone to grasp the fact that though corporate philanthropy was used in the US, businesses in the UK were on the whole not philanthropists but sponsors. This was not semantics. I believe this was a failure of the new political masters to understand the motivation behind business. Individual philanthropy appeared to be all the rage. Rich people were often to be seen in both 10 and 11 Downing Street but the less flashy business sponsor did not get a look in. Business funds the arts for entirely different reasons to individuals; sponsorship is a business decision, not a philanthropic gesture.

You might ask if that matters. Surely private money is all that concerns us. But if you take a brief look at those last A&B figures there is a disturbing trend. In the last survey, business gave £113.8m in 2011/12, static from 2011; individuals gave £372.9m, an increase of 6.5%; and trusts and foundations £173.8m, an increase of 15.8%. These are surprisingly healthy increases, especially considering the global crisis that was gripping the country. But what the figures really show is the regional imbalance that was already damaging public funding due to the massive cuts in local authority support. This was mirrored by the dominance of London in terms of the private money raised and the increasing dominance of certain major London-based arts organisations. A double whammy indeed.

In terms of money from business, the percentage going to London increased in 2011/12 from 65.9% to 67.8%, from trusts and foundations up from 68.2% to 73.1% and from individuals from 88.9% to 89.9%. In terms of equitable distribution this is serious and business sponsorship is the least of the three funding sources that is so London biased. Coupled with the findings of Gordon, Powell and Stark in 2013 and 2014, that £70 per head of ACE funding went to London, against £5 to the rest of the country. The fact that on average 82% of all private money is going to London shows real lasting damage will be caused to our nation’s cultural life.

The UK economy is beginning to pick up, but the age of austerity will continue and all public funding will remain severely reduced. I would argue it is to business sponsorship that the arts should increasingly look for new funds, especially outside London. Business profits will grow while government maintains a stranglehold on the public purse, as they struggle to reduce the deficit. But many arts organisations have argued that seeking corporate sponsorship has become counterproductive in terms of time and resources and that the pursuit of individual philanthropy has been a more productive funding stream. The problem is that rich personal donors appear neither to live nor be attracted to the arts and culture outside the capital, as the figures show. A&B had to close its regional English offices in 2011 and now little resource is available to boost regional support for private funds.

In an article in The Guardian in March, ACE said “past surveys have showed it [sponsorship] wasn’t a particularly booming market”. I would add that now the surveys have stopped being funded by ACE altogether, perhaps we will never know how that market is performing. To allow sponsorship to wane by public indifference and neglect surely is not right. Hopefully a new government of whatever political composition will come to the conclusion that business sponsorship of the arts, which was pioneered outside the US by Britain, should be nurtured again. Surely the arts need all the help they can get.

Colin Tweedy is Chief Executive Officer of The Building Centre.

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