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Will it be arts and business or arts vs business?

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There’s a slightly scary pragmatism working its way into the arts in the shadow of the recession, and Peter Bazalgette is a champion for it. He believes with all his heart in the arts, but he wants the government to see it as an industry that can be invested in. The word “subsidy” is not welcome in his vocabulary.

What this will mean to Arts Council England we will see in the next few weeks. Its new, 50% smaller, shape is finished in the summer and Baz, as he likes to be known, sees the priority of his first year to get that right. Whether that will mean tinkering by him isn’t clear – he does not have a reputation as a tinkerer, but he does have the attention of ears in high places.

He was on Jeremy Hunt’s executive board at DCMS for two years until his ACE appointment.

Baz wants the council to find ways of levering out private giving, corporate sponsorship having fallen off cliff as he puts it, and the Catalyst Fund – the pairing scheme that has £100 million available to lure philanthropists by matching their gifts – is only a part of it. He also knows that the arts council’s “investment”, however small, works as a magnet for private donations.

[pullquote]In at least two national arts institutions it went horribly wrong, with the chair trying to impose City practice on cultural managers who simply didn’t understand what they were talking about[/pullquote]

But the pressure on those artistic directors who have to double as executive directors to save a salary, is becoming unbearable. The trawl for free money has never been more intense, and it is taking its toll. At least one accomplished artistic director is throwing in the towel saying he can’t perform the creative role to his own satisfaction because of the time he has to devote to fund-raising, and where they can arts organisations are having to hire two chiefs, one for the art the other for the money, and someone will always have to take precedence. The hope is that by some alchemy the right people who can work together to the organisation’s prosperity will be found for an organisation, otherwise everything goes to ratchet very quickly.

In the 90s and early noughties there was a notion that if you appointed a chairman from the business world they would be able to knock an arts organisation in to shape, and in at least two national arts institutions it went horribly wrong, with the chair trying to impose City practice on cultural managers who simply didn’t understand what they were talking about (it was the cultural managers who had to go). We need to beware that we don’t end up in the same cul-de-sac.

But the mix of management and curation can work. A business manager who loves the arts and can man-manage coupled with a creative team on the same level in the hierarchy or even a notch below can be very productive, both in terms of the art and the books. I’m thinking of places like the De la War Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, a rare thing in that it is an art gallery with a 1,000-seat theatre.

There is an essential extra ingredient, though, which will gladden chairman Baz’s heart. It is that this particular organisation has put enormous effort into wooing the local community, programming the theatre with comedy, film and children’s shows and guiding audiences into the art gallery with subtle scheduling to that there is an assonance between the performances and the visual art. And there is, as Baz knows, a so far largely untapped source of giving, because he is aware that you don’t have to be wealthy to be an arts philanthropist. A freely given fiver at the end of a great night out can make all the difference.

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