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An ArtsProfessional article in partnership with Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy

Arts fundraising is in an exciting state of flux and Ben Walmsley is confident that the next generation will be steering cultural change in the sector.

Photo of workshop

This August the University of Leeds hosted the second national summer school for Arts Fundraising and Leadership. The summer school forms an integral part of the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Programme, funded by Arts Council England (ACE) to change the landscape of arts fundraising in England. One of its stated objectives is to maximise learning through ‘thought leadership’, and this is where the summer school comes into play. As Director of the summer school (and of the corresponding Postgraduate Certificate in Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy accredited by the University of Leeds), I enjoy the privilege of curating the content of this intensive week of executive sharing and learning.

Arts organisations need to stop appearing to be needy, evaluate their impact and stay aligned to their core values

We covered topics ranging from how to manage change to artist-led philanthropy. Alongside contributions from University of Leeds staff, we welcomed a number of national and international experts to deliver bespoke sessions. These included Sue Hoyle, Director of the Clore Leadership Programme, who extolled (and exuded) the qualities of quiet leadership and shared her vision of arts leaders as change-makers, place-makers and narrators; Richard Andrews from the University of California at Berkeley, who outlined fundraising trends in the US and illustrated the requirement in our digital era for integrated, multi-platform fundraising; Richard Watts, who displayed organisational change as an organic, social process rather than a ruthless, systemic upheaval; Claire Antrobus, who made the case for mission-related and values-based income diversification; and Melissa Nisbett from King’s College London, who explored how cultural policy is really made and what role (if any) cultural diplomacy might play in this somewhat opaque process.

Perhaps surprisingly for some, the core aim of the summer school is not to teach participants how to fundraise. As an academic programme that focuses as much on leadership as it does on fundraising, it aims to provide space for delegates to take a step back from their day-to-day operational practice as fundraisers and approach what they do in a more reflexive way. The reason the programme places such a privileged focus on leadership is partly because many of the delegates are clearly the future leaders of the sector, partly because arts leadership and income generation are increasingly inter-dependent, and also because arts fundraising will never flourish without buy-in from senior leaders.

At last year’s summer school, delegates seemed mindful of an apparent glass ceiling for fundraisers hoping to progress to leadership roles in the arts. But this year, there appeared to be a consensus that twenty-first century models of leadership demanded not only a distribution of power and decision-making but also a high level of fundraising and business development skills. I’m not sure that the past year has really witnessed such a profound culture shift across the sector, but the signs are clearly there that our future cultural leaders will need to lead across complex networks, empower their staff and develop robust, change-ready organisations.

Indeed, an issue that crept up again and again was the imperative to respond positively to change. Richard Watts stressed the need for leaders to embody and nurture change. This, he argued, involved avoiding the hackneyed and pernicious metaphors often applied to change management (silos and oil tankers) that merely perpetuate a blame culture, and instead focussing on positive communication and organisational ownership of change (we all need to change and what role can I play?).

What I personally took away from the week was notably that arts fundraising is in an exciting and significant state of flux. Like its wider discipline of arts management, it is facing an uphill struggle for legitimacy among a diverse range of interested stakeholders and suffering from perceptions of commercialism and selling out (sometimes misguided and sometimes not). But the presentations on the final day left me with a sense of hope because it seems that the next generation of arts fundraisers is keen to shift the terrain and terminology traditionally attached to fundraising. As one group forcefully insisted: “We’re all fundraisers now!”

A recurrent theme from the speakers was that in order to become the thriving, resilient entities that ACE and other funders expect them to be, arts organisations need to stop appearing to be needy, evaluate their impact and stay aligned to their core values while remaining change-ready and retaining the flexibility to ‘pivot’. Then engage with their visitors, audiences and the wider public to infuse their communities with culture and creativity. It was interesting therefore to read recently that Ed Vaizey is keen to place culture at the centre of place-making. This is all very well, but we have been here before. From a fundraising perspective, unless arts organisations continue to focus on their role and relevance in their communities, and align these to their core values, they will fail to effect the changes needed to transform themselves, never mind their surrounding areas.

Ben Walmsley is Lecturer in Audience Engagement at the School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds.
Tw @benwalmsley
Tw #afpsummer
E b.walmsley@leeds.ac.uk

Booking is now open for the 2016 for the Arts Fundraising and Leadership summer school in Leeds from 17 to 22 July.

If you are a fundraiser or development director please share your achievements with the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy (AFP) team. We would like to hear from any of you who are successfully campaigning, digital fundraising, analysing data… or yes that final bugbear, innovating. You can contact us by email: artsfundraising@cause4.co.uk or via our LinkedIn Group.

This article is part of a series of articles on the theme of fundraising for the future, sponsored and contributed by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy runs fundraising training courses on a wide range of topics. Find out more at artsfundraising.org.uk.

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Photo of Ben Walmsley