A proper fit-up
Congratulations to HOME, a year old and flushed with success. What its creation and development shows is that the pragmatic approach not only allows cost saving in that duplication is eliminated, it allows an airing to new art through co-production, a collegiate approach and the realisation of a new audience that previously, perhaps, knew only what it didn’t like, and that was what they thought was being offered.
It couldn’t have happened without the full-on support of the local authority – “We thought there was an artistic case for a merger (between the Cornerhouse visual arts centre and the Library Theatre to create HOME), not just an accommodation one” said Manchester’s chief executive, Howard Bernstein, in a telling phrase.
It is a philosophy that has been put to practical purpose for the last five years by the British Council, whose arts department was all but wound up four years before that but is now taking the lead around the world in showing the intrinsic and applied value of creativity in the most basic aspects of life, where the council’s experts work together with local practitioners whose cultures are quite different from ours. The BC's director of arts main dilemma is what to do with the extra cash his operation is earning, 30% up since 2011 in a mirror image of the cut in domestic arts subsidy.
But the old dilemma remains: where is the arts sponsorship? We’ve always been convinced that the culture in the boardroom is quite different from that in the studio, but is it? Out of necessity arts organisations have had to get much more business-like and have become adroit at finding means of dealing with the dwindling subsidy, forging the kind of mutually beneficial alliances with other arts organisations that would make any corporate proud.
Nevertheless, the commercial sphere is not responding. At the first Art of Sponsorship conference put on by the Showcase consultancy at the National Theatre last week the evidence was that corporates are still reluctant to switch their allegiances from sport to the arts, despite culture as a business sector earning nearly £80b a year thanks at least in part to the entrepreneurial nous the British Council, for instance, is showing. Boards are still being dominated by men, and they are still more enthused by the roar of a Formula 1 engine than the sigh of a violin, despite the fact that vroom costs many times more the strum an dies less widely popuar.
They, the businessmen, say the trouble is that although arts organisations may be very good at collaborating on creative matters, they are not getting together to share experiences and ideas on how to get commerce to see the benefit of taking some of the weight.
So this is the next frontier for the cultural sector, one that is being worked on by the likes of the Creative Industries Federation. As the National Theatre’s Lisa Burger says, it's not deep stuff: “It’s all about understanding. We want to tell a story, we want to communicate, and so do sponsors. It’s just a matter of finding a commonality. A good fit”.