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UK will become ‘cultural desert’ if attitudes towards philanthropy do not change – fundraising chief

Caroline McCormick. Photo: Johnny Ring Caroline McCormick. Photo: Johnny Ring
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Parts of the nation risk becoming “cultural deserts” unless public attitudes towards arts philanthropy shift, the leader of a fundraising consultancy has said.

Caroline McCormick, director of Achates Philanthropy, is campaigning for arts organisations to be better recognised as charities in the wake of local and central government funding cuts to culture.

Currently, McCormick argued, members of the public are more likely to donate to larger organisations, which means in some areas there is a risk of only a few ‘super institutions’ succeeding and the wider area being left a “cultural desert”.

In order to “sustain the cultural ecosystem”, McCormick said that three things need to happen; the public perception of the arts needs to shift, larger organisations need to do more to help smaller ones, and the smaller organisations themselves need to change to connect more with their audiences.

Speaking during a conference in Australia, called Culture Business Melbourne – The Art of Fundraising, she said: “In a country [like the UK] where culture receives only 1% of philanthropy and 60% of this goes to the 50 largest organisations – the problem with a model that is significantly influenced not just on large donor bases, but on the influence of major gifts from ultra high net worth individuals, which has been transformational for organisations like the Tate, Royal Opera House and National Theatre, is that it cannot be transferred wholesale to the vast majority of cultural institutions.

“This is because they simply do not have access to this wealth, which is concentrated in London and focused on a few organisations.”

She added: “Studies that I have supported show that voluntary income generation in the UK is influenced not simply by the quality of its work, but by the size of the institution, its regionality, art form, whether the organisation is already a venue, and whether it has access to its data – which is of course now a whole issue in itself.

“The danger here is of course that a few ‘super institutions’ will succeed and parts of the nation that do not have access to the resources required to sustain our cultural infrastructure in this new environment will be left a cultural desert. And while we all want the major institutions to be successful, we also want to ensure the future of a wider ecosystem, which sustains them and cultural provision across the UK.”

McCormick said that to combat a reduction in public funding, large arts organisations need to “think about sustaining the wider ecosystem” and consider partnerships, collaborations, co-productions and touring their work to smaller organisations.

Additionally, the smaller organisations “need to look at their role and develop a cultural identity, connect with their audiences and invite people in.”

McCormick went on to say that in three years time she hopes to go to a cash point and see the option to donate to an arts charity on there.

She said: “It is essential that we raise awareness of culture as being charitable and open up the support of the sector to all. In doing so we can create a model, which is more applicable to the vast majority of UK institutions.”

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