Christine and I went to an interesting event the other night, held by Stellar Network, entitled “Sponsorship for Funding”. The idea was to help creatives understand and incorporate the need for corporate sponsorship in their development programmes.
I was very interested. I made notes. I thought about how important it is for the management of companies like ours to be aware of the value of branding. I justified that it was ok for people like me to feel this necessity so that people like Sara and Christine don’t need to, and the art can remain ‘pure’.
But, the more the panel spoke, the more I became aware that the arts are moving rapidly towards a model set by the sports industry where public and charitable funding is supported – superseded? – by corporate sponsorship. We are used to seeing the logos of sponsors on football shirts, F1 helmets, golf clubs but is this something we really want in our world? We already have the Orange BAFTAS, what’s next, the Blackberry Barbican and the Apple Ambassadors Theatre Group? A fruity funding fiasco, indeed.
Do we really want to be part of a system where the rules between giving and control are so blurred? Notice how during press junkets the ‘stars’ are conspicuously drinking from a branded cup – I’m always bemused at how beneficial a sugary pop would be after a match, versus a nice isotonic over ice. And where does that end? What if the Old Vic were sponsored by Innocent Smoothies and Kevin Spacey was papped swilling his mouth with PJs during rehearsals? Shock, horror, and possible retraction of some dosh?
I admit, I am probably overreacting to something that a) I don’t fully understand, b) is unlikely to ever escalate to such levels and c) is in its elementary stages the essential lifeline to ailing cashflows as we move into (hopeful) economic recovery. But to me there seems to be an even more obvious solution that is evading at least 2 of the 3 boys taking up all the headlines at the moment.
No, it’s not innovative, it’s not even particularly modern. It’s called PUBLIC FUNDING. Now I know Education, Welfare, NHS, Pensions etc are what people really care about, and honestly, will be at the forefront of my mind come May 6th, but when the total spend of one industry matches only 1% of the overall NHS budget and 0.3% of total government spend, really what good is knocking off 20% (as Local Authorities are warning) going to do to help the public coffers?
Knocking a million or so off the culture budget of Hampshire County Council isn’t going to help get us out of debt, but would be enough to fund at least 5 mid-scale theatre companies and have a bit spare for an arts officer to co-ordinate their ventures into the community. And it’s this unquantifiable, nebulous ripple of benefit that makes our industry so darned important. The power of art to provoke, inspire, ponder, energise and galvanise is unequivocal and was the reason the Arts Council was created in the 1940s to sustain the cultural heritage of which we should all feel fuzzy and proud.
The theatre industry is a shining beacon of productivity for the GDP and any government that thinks they can claw back a little cream and not create a poorer cultural economy is foolish. And the thing is, central government may understand this, but as it trickles down to local offices it’s more difficult to justify – when faced with the choice between budgeting for pot-holes or promenade theatre, who would ever choose the latter?
Maybe I should look at that Sponsorship pack again.
By Lil Binham, Administrator, iceandfire