Art + Sponsorship = A Social Economy That Works For Us All!

I was asked to participate as a speaker in a debate called Sponsorship Compromises the Arts, held in London ...

This hot topic issue is ever increasing its position within the arts sector and further afield in the wider societal discourse, especially as we move towards a world where cutbacks, reduced grant aid and immense pressure is being placed on, already limited, statutory services and local authorities.

"Many will be aware of the issues surrounding corporate sponsorship and financial aid from the private sector!"

Indeed, many of my sector colleagues and other arts organisations themselves will be in receipt of such support, either solely or in conjunction with grant-aided income streams. In many respects, the arts is undergoing an evolutionary process whereby it must reassess its sustainability, become more robust and be open to how we continue to fund the amazing work that many artists, organisations and arts projects deliver.

Starting with this epistemological position, I wanted to explore the positives of corporate sponsorship relationships, highlighting the social impacts, benefits and sustainability opportunities and as such try and dispel some of the more common misunderstandings and myths that surround this form of income generation in the arts.

Of course, I'm not naïve to the negative impacts of an artist or organisation associating themselves with what could be considered 'dark' sources of money, but we (the arts sector) must be open to a discussion, at the very least, on how we continue to fund the power of the arts and the subsequent socio-economic benefits to society.

"I had the great pleasure of seconding Alex Beard CBE, CEO of the Royal Opera House!"

Alex deals with a variety of corporate sponsorship and investment, within his role, strategically leading the Royal Opera House and managing its operations, programming and delivery. It was only natural that Alex would be identified as an ideal speaker to oppose the motion, “Sponsorship Compromises the Arts” tabled by Dr Simone Wesner (Birkbeck University, London).

Simone herself, having a wealth of experience in arts management, curation and lecturer of the MA Arts and Policy Management postgraduate degree at Birkbeck, meant that this hot topic debate would be conducted by sector leaders and those who could offer not only theoretical frameworks to facilitate the discussion, but also include real live reference, based on experience.

As a cultural/social entrepreneur, I wanted to move the discourse forward through presentation of not only my own experiences in the arts sector, but with reference to the question of, "why do we (artists/organisations) do it?" and furthermore, how this unique relationship between corporates and the arts, can have the most profound positive effects and implications on society as a whole.

Trying to explore such a varied and grey area of funding the arts, in just six short minutes, obviously meant a huge amount of editing down what I wanted to say. As such, my speech should be considered as a stimulus for further exploration and research, rather than it being conclusive.

I believe that through some of the methodology I presented to the house, we have a real opportunity to redefine how the arts sector is paid for. How we, as artists and organisations, diversify our income streams in order to be robust and face the increasing challenges prevalent in the civil society, reimagine the very structures that govern our world (capitalism) and how we sustain and grow the power of the arts (social value, impact and development).

Through personal reflection, being asked on stage in front of a sell-out audience (with many members crowding into other rooms to listen via relayed systems), without the comfort of props, costumes or even fire tricks and stunts (historically, my only justifications for ever treading the boards) meant that, I was entering a new arena.

"Public speaking is incredibly difficult and I admire individuals that have mastered this art!"

Speaking honestly, genuinely and from a place of lived experience became my raison d'être. I hope I aided the conversation and did justice to concepts like social enterprise, economies and the creative rethinking of the capitalised structure.


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