Unlocking the Power of Philanthropy in Arts and Culture

Why Can’t I get Donations?

Everybody working in the arts and culture industry is feeling the pressure. State funding is declining and the funding agencies are promoting the argument that philanthropy must fill the gap left by the cutbacks. Arts organisations are all taking fund-raising courses, appointing funding executives, skilling up on varieties of CRM tools and soaking up the sayings of the new gurus – impact drives income, and you have to tell a compelling story about what you do, etc. etc.

I’m actually a big fan of all this, but there is a danger that we oversimplify the economic realities of philanthropy as well as its ethical implications.

The question is, can everybody build a sustainable artistic or cultural enterprise based on philanthropy and the answer is no – regardless of impact or compelling narrative. But that can be changed.

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When is a theatre company a Theatre Company

A couple of years ago I had to end a business relationship with an old friend. Something I would rather not have done. However, it was necessary when I realised that that person’s company wasn’t a company.  It was a legal fiction, necessary if he was to receive grants and commissions, it had no assets, no investors, and no long term plan. It did one thing (one set of tasks) and repeated it again and again – whenever it got a grant or a commission. Essentially this friend did one thing and hawked that skill around: they were a freelancer. Not a company. Not really. And this came as a shock to them.

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“What shall we do, now that we are happy?” – Reconciling the intrinsic and the instrumental in the Culture Industry

I was in conversation recently with one of our leading theatre artists. The topic of the government’s impending national culture policy discussion document, culture2025, came up so I asked their opinion. They looked up from under lowered brows and uttered, in that tired contemptuous tone, a single word: “Instrumentalist”.

Continue reading “What shall we do, now that we are happy?” – Reconciling the intrinsic and the instrumental in the Culture Industry

Culturally Creative or Creatively Cultural? What the hell are we talking about?!

I’m sorry, you say I’m doing what?

For artists, arts policy makers, politicians, strategists, consultants, entrepreneurs, CEOs and, well, mostly artists “the world is in a terrible state of chassis”, as Sean O’Casey wrote. (“Chassis” meaning “chaos’ for those of us not familiar with his work). Time was you could talk about Arts and Culture (nearly always with capital letters) and everybody – including you – knew what you meant. It’s why the Irish Arts Act lists what can be considered as art with great confidence and only included cinema in its second iteration. It made life easy for the funding agencies that were brought into existence to protect and develop The Arts (because we all knew what art was) and allowed us to quietly divide the society between the cultured (those who appreciated The Arts) and the uncultured (those who did not).  Alas, all has changed, a terrible beauty has been born, as Yeats would say.

We now have to contend with arts, culture (no capital letters), heritage, co-creation, prosumers (yes its a word), creative, industry, imagination, creative industries, culture and cultural industries, Culture 3.0, and of course the ongoing manichean struggle between intrinsic and instrumental value.  It ain’t easy.

So, with the Irish Government’s  first ever cultural policy – Culture2025 – in the pipeline I thought I’d try to tease out some of the key terms that are going to get thrown around in the forthcoming debate. It’s important that we all agree on the meaning of the words we use in this debate and how they relate to each other or we’re in danger of leaving the table with very different expectations. Agreeing on the meaning of what we’re saying is the first step toward strategic alignment – that magical state where everybody works together toward the same goal.

Continue reading Culturally Creative or Creatively Cultural? What the hell are we talking about?!

Dogs, Stars, Cows, Question Marks and the Art of Arts Programming.

So, you’re running an Arts Centre or a gallery or a “cultural Institution”; or you’ve just started a new festival or theatre or dance company. How do you decide what to programme? What will you actually do, and what factors – internal and external – will inform that decision? What criteria will you use to justify the massive investment of time, talent, energy and public or private money. It’s a tricky one. Continue reading Dogs, Stars, Cows, Question Marks and the Art of Arts Programming.

Dreamwalkers, Boundary Scanning and Antoine O Flatharta

Antoine O Flatharta is – in my opinion – one of the greatest, and most under-acknowledged Irish playwrights. He is the only one whose plays I would go to see again and again (five times in the case of Silverlands). He wrote a beautiful play for TEAM many years ago called Dreamwalker. I won’t go into the details of the plot but at the end the protagonist gives this great speech about what he learned living with a tribe. The tribe believed that the borders of their land marked the end of the world. They would elect (or select, I can’t remember which) a person to walk beyond the borders into the non world. Their job was to travel the non world and dream the dreams of the tribe. On their return they would share the stories of their dream travels, describing what lay beyond the borders of the known. In doing this the dreams were made real, and the borders of the tribe, the borders of the known world expanded. These people were called Dream walkers. It fascinates me how much of the hard, rational language of business is built on mythic stories just like this.
Continue reading Dreamwalkers, Boundary Scanning and Antoine O Flatharta