What motivates businesses to support the arts? David Watt explores the main reasons beyond 'doing the right thing'.

Photo of two ballet dancers on scaffolding
Check-it Scaffold Services' partnership with Scottish Ballet
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Christina Riley

In April 2017, Arts & Business Scotland launched the Culture & Business Fund Scotland (CBFS), a programme dedicated to promoting closer collaboration between arts and heritage and the Scottish business community by match funding business sponsorship of cultural projects.

In its first year, the programme invested more than £260,000 into 38 successful cultural and business partnerships, located throughout Scotland. In fact, every £1 of grant funding awarded during that first year leveraged £1.41 in business sponsorship, generating a total investment of more than £645,000 into the cultural sector.

The importance of a vibrant cultural sector to quality of life is a motivation for many businesses

For arts and heritage organisations taking part in the CBFS programme, the idea of doubling their money has been a crucial selling point in discussions with potential business partners. Many of these organisations report that the availability of match funding played a pivotal role in getting a business partner on board.

With Lottery and local government funding for culture in apparent ongoing decline, the impetus for arts and heritage organisations to seek out alternative sources of funding is immediately clear. But the motivations for businesses to partner with the cultural sector have not always been as obvious. Our experience is that those motivations can be numerous and varied.

Public support

Research we have conducted shows strong public appreciation for the broader good that businesses do when they support local cultural projects. A recent public survey found that more than half of Scots would be more inclined to buy goods and services from a business if they knew that business had supported culture in the local area. Similarly, a recent survey of the business community found that 85% of businesses responding thought partnering with a cultural organisation would have a positive impact on their bottom line.

On this basis, beyond the altruistic motivation of ‘doing the right thing’, there are good business reasons for supporting culture. Facilitated through the CBFS programme, scaffolding company Check-It Scaffold’s long-term creative partnership with Scottish Ballet has been hugely successful in raising the company’s profile and actively generating new business.

Vibrant cultural sector

Beyond this, the contribution that a vibrant cultural sector makes to quality of life is a motivation for many businesses. Particularly in Scotland, businesses across a wide range of sectors emphasise quality of life as a means of attracting talent in a competitive global labour market.

With Brexit, quality of life is likely to become an even more important differentiator for Scotland to attract people to live and work here. Businesses are realising that, without a varied and high quality cultural offer for their employees to enjoy, they could lose out in the competition for skills and talent. This makes it a matter of their own self-interest to support culture in their area.

For instance, local businesses have grasped the recent opening of the V&A Dundee as a great opportunity to market Dundee as an exciting place to live and work to potential job applicants. Also match-funded through the CBFS programme, Scottish Salmon Company’s sponsorship of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Theatre in Schools Scotland programme was in large part motivated by the fact that the children of their workforce, located in remote parts of the west of Scotland, would directly benefit.

Sharing skills

The opportunity for businesses, the arts and heritage organisations to learn from one another is also not to be underestimated. In particular, the cultural sector is naturally imbued with a range of skills that are becoming crucial for businesses of all types to take on and develop.

The Future of Jobs report, published at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2016, considers the top ten skills across all industries globally - what those top ten skills were in 2015 and what they are predicted to become by 2020. The report anticipates that creativity, ranked tenth in 2015, will shoot up the list to reach number three by 2020. What better means of putting creativity on the business agenda than through closer collaboration with the cultural sector?

Community partnerships

Many business participants in the CBFS programme are deeply embedded within their local communities and are motivated to support heritage and the arts by a desire to maintain their good reputation and to further reinforce those roots within the community.

So it was for Jardine Funeral Directors when it partnered with D-Lux to deliver the annual Festival of Light in Dumfries. It was a means of expressing Jardine’s pedigree as a local family company of more than 150 years that has been intimately connected to the town.

Meanwhile, for Stornoway Port Authority and Gael Force Group, it was the prospect of being part of a historic occasion in the cultural life of Stornoway as they marked the centenary of the Iolaire disaster that prompted both to sponsor the creation of a memorial sculpture to be unveiled in January.

Long-term footing

As a catalyst for long-term partnerships between arts, heritage and the business community, programmes such as CBFS have an increasingly crucial role to play. The programme also provides crucial insight into business motivations for sponsoring culture. Above all, by stimulating closer collaboration between culture and business, they should help to put cultural funding on a more sustainable long-term footing – and create the vibrant and varied cultural sector we all need to be able to flourish.

David Watt is Chief Executive of Arts & Business Scotland.
www.aandbscotland.org.uk

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