Public vs Private investment

It is true to say that in this country private funding for the arts is uninspiring and the battle between public subsidy and private/corporate support continually a current issue.  Especially when compared to other European countries, private support for the arts in the UK is appalling.  The opportunity is overlooked, meaning that productions rely heavily on box office income and therefore have higher stakes in order to succeed.  Notably in Germany, corporate backing from large organisations is often expected by both the giver and the receiver, with businesses looking to fund an item of state.  The British model does however, have many strengths with budgets favouring a three-way split between box office, public subsidy and private funding.  In the USA, by contrast, state subsidy is limited and corporations and individuals assist the box office in covering expenditure.

The advantages of the British system are that funding is more differentiated and spreads a wider responsibility.  It also provides a belief that the public sector has a role and responsibility for the public provision of the arts.  The example I draw upon here is the National Theatre.  Its funding is provided through this three-way split of very healthy public funding, box office revenue and corporate sponsorship, notably, from oil-giant Shell.  The sponsorship of Shell has however caused some protest in recent times, most significantly from an organisation called Rising Tide.  Using their slogan “Art not Oil”, Rising Tide argues that these companies are using advertising and cultural sponsorship to cover their environmentally destructive actions.  It would seem ludicrous to suggest that any theatre should refuse money from anyone in these challenging times and the theatre defends this by saying:

“We do not believe that refusing to accept sponsorship from oil companies is a constructive approach; it’s hypocritical (we all use energy) and diverts from the real challenge, which is to pursue environmental sustainability and to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

However, if the National and other high-profile organisations decided not to renew their sponsorship deals with Shell, then the negative publicity might force Shell to clean up its act.  But my point here is does it have to be a company trying to throw rose petals to cover its stench ?  Why should corporate support be about the ritualistic asker and the giver?  Can’t more companies realise the good to be done through cultural sponsorship and expect to give, without reluctance, and see it as a pleasure, an opportunity and, an art?

theatreJunki © 2009

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  1. […] for musical theatre is commonplace on Broadway as discussed to some extent previously here.  It gives some relief to see that finally, it has been recognised that public subsidy is needed […]



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