Will Philanthropists Save the Arts?

This was the question posed by Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian on 21st October regarding the Arts Council’s funding cut of 30%, as a result of the government spending review.  Museums budgets are also to be cut by 15% and, at the time of writing, there will be an anticipated but as yet unknown amount cut from arts budgets in Scotland and Wales.  

This is a question that needs to be answered.  In my post on The Future of Arts Funding, I mentioned the study carried out by Arts & Business which considered it unlikely that we could expect philanthropy to meet the income gap made by government cuts.  Not least because, as Vivien Duffield comments in the Guardian article, many donors feel that their contribution should be the ‘icing on the cake’ and not the cake itself.

Culture is an important expression of the human experience – but it’s also a key contributor to the UK economy.   According to Support the Arts, 6.2% of the UK’s local income comes from the creative industries, the arts provide over 2 million jobs and are mentioned by 8 out of 10 tourists as a reason for their visit.  Not only do the arts contribute massively to the UK economy, they do so whilst doubling the money invested in them – funding the arts costs everyone in Britain 17p per week.  The arts earn the government around 35p per person per week.  So even if you’re not an arts lover yourself, you can’t argue that investing in them does make economic sense – as artist David Shrigley illustrates (literally) in his animation.  

And, while all of the arts are under threat, what about small, regional, grassroots or community arts organisations?  The future seems particularly bleak for them as the Arts Council are surely more likely to try to save high profile arts organisations who are perhaps more vocal, more proficient at organising support and already have a strong base of supporters – and will therefore, be in a position to create a noise about any potential cuts to their budgets.

Higgins’s article featured quotes from a number of wealthy individuals, the majority of whom are based in and around London and who tend to give to organisations around the same area, often in the more traditional arts, such as ballet, opera and mainstream theatre.  Community organisations, children’s arts organisations or those based in towns and cities outside the south east tend not to receive donations from the Portraits, d’Offay’s or Lord Stevensons of this world.  They are unable to offer excellent seats for their performances in top theatres; or inscriptions on buildings and theatre seats.  They don’t feature in reviews by the London based broadsheets and their Board members aren’t on FTSE 100 companies. 

So how will smaller organisations raise money through philanthropy and sponsorship in an ever increasingly competitive market?  Many of these organisations are much loved and frequented by local audiences; they can be the breeding grounds for experimental work or the place where grassroots activities involving the wider community are developed.  Many talented artists and performers first made their mark in regional or community based organisations.  Perhaps most importantly, these organisations are often the first place where many people experience the arts – either as children or adults – and are therefore, the catalyst for many people becoming future audiences for the arts.

There’s no doubt that there will be worrying times ahead – and not just for the arts, for the third sector as a whole, as reduced government funding and a smaller welfare state is likely to put huge pressure on already limited resources, while competition for funds is likely to increase in the future.

The arts are well placed.  They are already lean, tend to have existing loyal audiences and are creative in their approach.  But the challenges they face cannot be underestimated and will no doubt take their toll on the future creativity and therefore, economic output of this country.

Perhaps you don’t agree – or perhaps you think that the arts can be sacrificed?  What are the major challenges your organisation faces in light of the government cuts?


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