Who cares about large capital developments?

Who cares about large capital developments?

Miriam Battye
Since I started working in arts development, I find myself going straight to the Support Us page on websites and in programmes of any arts organisations that I visit and seeing how they are making the “ask”.

Fundraising is a fascinating science, and the more and more I look at the way that we approach people to ask for money, the more variety I find in how organisations choose to go about fundraising.

Increasingly I have found myself surprised that when looking through these pleas for support that there are a huge number of organisations seeking funding for large capital developments. Whether this is for a refurbishment or a brand new space, the fruition of these appeals always seems to be a long way off and the figures sought are always staggering.

These pleas, particularly the large ones, often leave me uninspired. I think that this possibly has something to do with my three “roles” in the arts sector. Perhaps it is because, as a fundraiser, the importance of evidencing the need, and the public benefit of these kind of activities is the absolute first thing that I think about whenever I seek out funding. Perhaps it is also because, as a fairly enterprising artist, I recognise how much a small amount of money can contribute to getting a practical project off the ground. And perhaps, most importantly, as a donor, the limitations of what I can give financially means that I am immediately cut off from making a difference to a significant capital development.

I don’t know how worthwhile this opinion is but I often see these large bids as frivolous. I understand that restoring a building that is falling down but is needed and widely used is a fairly essential need, and similarly I understand that creating a new space through which to present art, to engage a community, or to offer a really new way of working that will have long term impact should be supported.

However I find myself increasingly frustrated that larger funding bodies will apportion funds to non-essential projects such as purely outward-facing renovations, restoring grandeur or adding places purely to sustain income generation. I find this particularly frustrating when those funds are so large it is clear how that the funding could have made an instrumental effect on another organisation, an artist, a company or a project. I find this particularly pertinent when we await inevitable funding cuts this summer that may put a lot of organisations making and doing great work out of operation.

I find it refreshing to see organisations that recognise what they do well and do not seek to overestimate their purpose in the sector. Perhaps if every organisation recognised what their unique offer was and focused on delivering that to the best of their ability, without seeking to develop into spaces that are not expressly needed, we might have a far healthier and more mutually supportive arts sector ecology?

I’d be really interested to hear thoughts from other people who are working in the sector, and am always open-minded to having my opinions challenged and changed! Should we forget the bigger capital appeals and focus on the art?