A friend said this to me recently and it got me thinking. We were talking about the pitfalls of corporate sponsorship. I was expressing concern about the ethics of taking money from a company whose money may not be as ‘clean’ as they would like you to believe (the cynic in me believes that all Corporate Social Responsibility is simply an exercise in PR and greenwash). And I was grappling with bigger questions to do with the privatisation of arts funding:
- Does the source of money influence the artistic practice?
- Is any money free from exerting an influence on the artist or art it enables?
- Is all money equally ‘good’ or ‘bad’, regardless of the source?
- Or, is some money better or cleaner or freer than others? Less dirty, less constraining?
For many countries, the credit crunch has been used by governments as an excuse for drastic cuts in arts and cultural funding. In England in 2010, Arts Council England was forced by the current coalition government to deliver a 30% cut to its budget between 2011 and 2015, a total of £100 million. 50% of cuts will be to its own running costs, and 15% is to be cut from core support to arts and artists. 200 organisations lost their core funding in March 2011.
These cuts resulted in numerous debates, many of which are still raging. At a basic level, people engaged with the issue can be split into two camps – those against vs those for the cuts to the Arts Council. There are then those who loathe vs those who condone the propulsion toward the private sector. There are those that believe asking artists to simultaneously be entrepreneurs is no bad thing vs those that think that such an ask results in diluting the practice of the artist. And there are, of course, many shades in-between….
At an event in 2010 at the ICA in London called ‘Public Art, Private Money’, the overwhelming opinion on ethics and arts sponsorship was that private sector sponsorship is the new reality and we just have to get on with it. On the topic of the controversy surrounding sponsorship by BP of Tate and other large arts institutions in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the following positions emerged:
“This is not the time to be squeamish”
- Christopher Frayling, former Chairman of Arts Council England, and former Rector of the Royal College of Art
“All money’s dirty money. Not that I’m saying BP’s money is dirty”
- Alex Beard, Deputy Director of Tate
“The first person you go to is someone with an image problem”
- Frayling again
For some, all corporate sponsorship is deeply problematic, regardless of sector. For others, some sectors, industries and businesses are far better than others. How do you decide? I’m not sure I’ve worked out a successful matrix yet but I know that, if I continue working in the world of arts funding I’m going to be grappling with this issue for the foreseeable future – whether we like it or not, corporate sponsorship is here to stay.
What do you think? I’d love to hear.