Showing posts with label ACE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ACE. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Trouble with Sponsorship

More people these days are making their feelings known about where sport and the arts get their necessary lucre. And it's not a moment too soon. But where do we go from here?

Mark Rylance [right], probably today's finest Shakespearean actor, appeared the other day on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show (catch it here for the rest of the week) and didn't mince his words about certain fast-food chains that are sponsoring the Olympics and building their largest-ever outlets on location in East London. It shouldn't be allowed, he insisted.

As the Olympics approach, more and more Londoners are starting to find the surrounding morass cringeworthy: big money, black markets, shuddery transport, the alleged attempt not to remunerate performing musicians, and so on. Junk food is not the jewel in the crown. It's the nail in the coffin. 

After tweeting about Mark Rylance, I found I'd acquired a new Twitter follower called BP Or Not BP. "We are the Reclaim Shakespeare Company," says its mission statement. "We cometh to rescue the RSC from the slings and arrows of outrageous BP." And considerable attention is also being drawn to the involvement of the oil industry with fine art.

I recently went to hear the Simon Bolivár Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel at the Royal Festival Hall, playing the Beethoven 'Eroica' Symphony. As the Venezuelan musicians took their places, a woman in the audience began shouting. I couldn't see her or hear the details of what she was yelling about; the assumption that it must be a human rights issue about Chavez’s government didn't seem unreasonable. But then, briefly, a banner the size of a tea-towel became visible and made clear that her protest was environmental, directed not at the performers, but against the sponsors of the series in which they appeared, which goes by the title Shell Classic International.

Only a couple of people appeared to be involved; they were quickly booed down and all was peaceful thereafter. A few days later, at an opera, I found myself surrounded by big-money types sporting interesting languages, sharp suits and trophy wives. Their exceedingly powerful company was sponsoring the event. It has a somewhat mixed history regarding both the environment and politics, but here there were no protests. Indeed, the company's personnel seemed to account for most of the audience.

Government subsidy is reducing. The latest dollop of extra money from ACE, 'Catalyst Arts', has been awarded to various entities - the Wigmore Hall and some top orchestras among them - on condition that they raise private funds themselves to match the amount. Arts companies, as well as sporting events, must court private sponsorship more actively than ever before. And sponsors with the inclination and spare dosh to invest in the arts are not as plentiful as they might have been five or six years ago.

I don't need to give you a run-down here about banking and LIBOR, or environmental disasters, or how smoking kills people, or the connections between the arms trade, organised crime and blood diamonds, and so forth. You can find it all with a few judicious Googles. Scratch away at the paintwork of many big events and you might well discover something lurking beneath that could justify unfurling a tea-towel. 

Now, there are wonderful people who practise philanthropy on a daily basis; admirable individuals who, having made money through hard graft, are devoting the fruits of their labours to supporting the arts that they love - for example, by helping young musicians, sponsoring recordings and financing good instruments. This needs real encouragement. No company brand is involved, no subliminal message designed to implant the idea that maybe if you eat this, you'll be able to do that.
 
But beyond that, arts organisations, along with international sporting fixtures, are sometimes having to cosy up to people they might rather not. They do have to be cosied up to. They have to be wined and dined and played to and publicly thanked. Sometimes they become power-hungry. The worst scenarios involve the whitewashing of public images and the cleansing of charred souls. 

Arts audiences - the ordinary ones who'd like to buy tickets to see and hear something inspiring – are people who care about Shakespeare and Mozart and talented kids, and they're likely to care about the environment, human rights and good health as well. With issues as high-profile as the Olympics and that recent Formula One event to prove the problems loud and clear, more are waking up. Will they begin to vote with their tickets? I'm starting to wonder.

If an organisation can please either its natural audience or its sponsors, but not both, chances are they'll plump for the sponsors every time. Are we to end up with a state of affairs in which our arts organisations are mere playthings for the super-rich? 

The arts need big money. The audience wants good ethics. Where do we go from here? Answers on a postcard, please.  

Meanwhile, a good proportion of the shoppers in our local supermarket are now so fat that they can only waddle. It couldn't be more obvious that Mark Rylance is right. 

UPDATE: LondonJazz has forwarded this story from Simon Tait's Arts Industry newsletter, describing the way that Jeremy Hunt is pushing the sponsorship agenda and pulling state support back. Look out for this bit, with JH saying “I hope the state will continue to be able to support the arts” - implying for the first time from him that it might not – and admitting in his next sentence that “the state has become a less reliable partner” in arts funding. The fear of the likes of Nick Serota is that it is about to become even less reliable, bringing forward the Comprehensive Spending Review a year to this autumn and piling still more cuts on the arts. http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a11ee4dbf1f30d899385efb31&id=6d0bda3e74&e=d8f9c6cad9