Igniting the sparks
The received wisdom is that business sponsorship is dead, killed by the credit crunch. The first fundraising port of call for arts organisation is not the banks, supermarket chains or grocery manufacturers as of yore but charitable trusts and foundations. And philanthropy… it just didn’t happen did it?
Well it isn’t dead, it seems, it’s just being rethought. The international legal firm Clyde & Co has been quietly decking the vast wall spaces of its new Houndsditch offices with art borrowed, not bought, from recent art school graduates. The scheme has been going for five years whereby someone from Clyde’s pro bono operation goes to the degree shows of five participating London art schools and picks 30 or 40 graduates to rent their art for a year. The art goes on sale at price set by the young person, no commission is charged and 75% of the stuff is sold. And the firm isn’t stuck with possessing art it might not much like to turn out to be a good investment, and gets to change what’s on its walls every year, while a co9uple of dozen artists have got their vital start. Two of them win a prize.
Now Clydes have come up with a new wheeze to be announced in the next few weeks that will give them a national dimension: spreading the art prize to new partners in the regions, with local art schools and businesses partnering up to give support to graduates who need the advice and financial support to make the transition into being professional artists, as well as their work being exhibited beyond their art school cloisters. Minimal lay-out of money, but huge local value to the cultural landscape.
Clydes might have figured large in the annual Arts & Business Awards, only the last time they were handed out was the year after their original plan was launched, A&B having lost its government subsidy. It used to be a glittering occasion in the arts calendar alongside the Oliviers, the Turner Prize and the Baftas, and there was always a blur of business cards crossing the groaning dining tables.
It may be back. For 28 years Colin Tweedy ran A&B and the awards each year were his finest hour when he gave the hidden angels that oiled our creative wheels their moment in the spotlight. He now runs the Built Environment Trust and The Building Centre under whose auspices he’s planning a new Creative Industries Awards, informally being called Creative Sparks. Not an excuse for a party, he says, but a vital encouragement for backers, and an opportunity for our creative cream to seek out vital support. “The range of fantastic individuals and projects being supported through these new awards will act as inspiration for others to get involved” he tells me. “The search is now on to find those sponsors and patrons, backers and investors that keep the creative flame alive”. And he will know where they are if anyone does,
Arts organisations are being praised by the government and its cheer leaders for their entrepreneurial inventiveness in not only surviving the subsidy-starved economic winter but flourishing in it. Business sponsorship, which was worth approaching £1 billion a year in its noughties heyday, is never mentioned now as part of the funding recipe. It’s clearly still there, viz Clydes, and the taste for lavish celebration hasn’t gone away – the Art Fund Museum of the Year has been added to the calendar since the A&B awards went - and their purpose is to bring success to the public gaze. When the A&B awards were going national newspapers ran sponsorship columns – I had one in The Times of three years – discussing developments, arguments and, of course, winners and losers. That conversation needs to be started again if we are to bring commerce back into arts support, and Tweedy’s bright sparks might provide the introductory remarks.