David and Goliath? How do we protect the underdog in arts fundraising?

David and Goliath? How do we protect the underdog in arts fundraising?


Sarah Bird Profile 2
Sarah Bird was Arts Fundraising Fellow for New Writing North until September 2016, and now works as a freelance fundraiser.

Recently, I’ve been pretty obsessed by BBC4’s new series, “Music for Misfits: The Story of Indie”. It started in 1977 with the DIY punk ethics of The Buzzcocks debut release, the Spiral Scratch EP, which was notably the first independently produced and released record of its era. The programme then followed the trajectory of a range of independent bands, all of who struggled to some extent with balancing their quest for artistic integrity and the urge to break boundaries, with a fight for recognition (and dare I say a wage too!). Should they stay true to their indie roots or (gasp!) sign to a major label? This conflict is something I see quite often working with artists navigating the world of cultural fundraising and making ends meet – do, and should, stakeholders have a right in affecting artistic vision and integrity?

Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch

As part of Arts Council England’s Catalyst scheme, of which there is to be a new scheme, Catalyst Evolve, opening in January 2016, arts organisations have been asked to shift focus, from relying on trusts and foundations to looking towards philanthropy as an alternative. Something I’d like to explore further is making philanthropy more accessible, particularly for those who haven’t got thousands of pounds to spare acheter du cialis en belgique. Is it possible to financially support arts organisations on a low income? And if an individual gives a gift, which is small in cash value but proportionally high for them, will it still create impact, and more importantly, will the organisations recognise the scale of gift to an individual, or will small donations always be seen as small fry? Indeed, will it ever be possible to make cultural giving less of a middle-class occupation in order to make it genuinely accessible and for all?

Alan Lane from Slung Low in Leeds wrote a fantastic blog on the idea of a barn-raising capital campaign. Instead of giving money, people would give their time and skills to invest. Initially I loved this idea, especially as he works on a company wage so worked out that giving six hours of your time was the equivalent of a donation to £95, which sounds brilliant! However, as I think about it more, I worry that it does have its problems; the financial equivalent is only really important to Arts Council where reporting on things like ‘in-kind giving’ (as it would be seen) have value. How is it seen and valued by participants? And does the “time bank” idea sit uncomfortably alongside unpaid “work experience” and internships, and the offer of “experience” instead of cash? 

All of this has thrown up so many ideas and quandaries about if there is another way to fundraise. Is an alternative even worth considering? We all have to operate within rules and set systems dictated by free-markets and capitalism, and perhaps we just need to become savvy to it and work within the system rather than against it.

Mulling these ideas over took me back to BBC4’s The Story of Indie. All of these bands were trying to make exciting and interesting music whilst keeping true to their roots, and getting support from indie labels like Factory and Postcard and Rough Trade. This could be likened to crowd-funded campaigns and individual giving schemes that give artists, generally speaking, unrestricted funds. This is fine for some artists and projects like Slung Low but if you want to make a more considerable impact and increase your reach, you will no doubt still have to chase major funders. Like major record labels, they have the capacity to offer large sums of money, but they also, understandably, expect a lot back from you – with smaller arts companies still have to undertake the same amount of reporting and paperwork as larger ones.

It’s now been 30 years since “Just Like Honey” was released, and the debate of indie vs. major still remains unresolved, but in my year as a fundraising fellow I will keep exploring and thinking about ways to resolve some of the issues around philanthropy. We need to be creative so that both the David and Goliath’s of the arts fundraising world can survive and prosper.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your views.