More on alternative funding for the Arts Sector

As you might have noticed by now I am totally convinced that the arts sector needs to look towards other funding models and that our reliance on public funding and generous donors has to come to an end. What I would like to make clear is that I would not like to see a total abandonment of these forms of funding but to my mind these should be the icing on the cake so to speak and not the premier go to de-facto method of funding. We need to have the backing by state and private funds, we need the endorsement especially when we are talking to or looking to enter foreign markets, the Arts Council logo attached to your work speaks a thousands words and shows that the artistic quality that we provide is of the highest standard.  However we also need to be fair to our public funders and make the situation, I dare to say easier as they have another more specific function that we need them to operate, that of addressing and lobbying government policy towards the arts.  Anything that we can do to show them that we are a financially aware sector, able to look at and address other options to be financially secure, not only decreases the burden and conversations we have with the various department heads but also means that they can go to government and show that the sector is trying and succeeding in being financially secure.  Imagine for one moment how this piece of information would impact on government. I know that this does not sit well with the sector as a whole and that current thought would be that if we showed ourselves able to survive without public money then public money would be cut completely.

Now if we look at the investment increase that has been afforded to the corporate sector I think it can be demonstrated that governments like to fund success, being blunt, it looks good for them if the sector thrives, so they will pay. What they will not pay for is a sector in decline because they are not able to demonstrate the positive effects that a vibrant and financially secure sector can provide.It becomes a benefit and not a cash cow especially when it is taken against services such as health or social welfare.

So what methods are there to get funding? For this let’s look again at the corporate sector and the opportunities open to them as a lot of start-ups and SME’s face the same problems as we do in (us?) the arts sector in regards to access to finance. Traditional ways of getting finance still exist, from family and friends or in our case as well our supporters. Banks have a remit to lend to SME’s but in reality this finance is limited by the ability to pay, something I am sure a lot of us have had the opportunity to test of late when we have asked the same question. Then there are the local enterprise boards and state agencies who can offer different funding options as well as associated services like mentoring and business advice. The other funding opportunities are relatively new to Ireland, by this I mean that they have only been on the main stage for the past thirty years or so. This encompasses Venture Capitalists, Seed Funds and more recently Angel Investors all who look to invest but who normally take some type of equity in the business. Who would want equity in an arts organisation, we might be surprised. A lot of companies are looking at their corporate social responsibility models and a lot are finding them inadequate. Could these companies act as angel investors in the arts sector?

I know I said I would look at the corporate sector first but just think about this for one second so that it gives you an idea of my train of thought. Imagine what impact it would have on a corporate company looking to invest in an arts organisation but they might be concerned that firstly there is no return possible on the investment and also they are concerned that the fit is not quite correct when the arts organisation is taken alongside a much needed service to solve an even more emotional societal issue, like child cancer. 

Now what would be the outcome if the arts organisation said to the company, we do not want you to be solely a donor, in fact we want to treat this as an investment on which we will offer you a return on the amount invested in return we would like to access some of the commercial experience you have gained to help us with our business model and implementation. Now this becomes a totally different ball game. The company is no longer giving but it is also receiving. They are also not thinking of themselves as just passive givers who are part with their money to help society but they can feel and see themselves as a major part of the sector. A lot of organisations I have spoken to reiterate the fact that they want to help, but not in a volunteer or charity way but they want to be able to help using the experience that they have gained towards society. Ethics has come of age, it’s true corporates do care and more importantly want to care, to be part of. If we, as a sector, use the knowledge that these corporates do in a business way then we really could look towards financial independence.