How to fix the funding issue

Whether museums or galleries sink or swim will be down to how effectively they market themselves.

Kiss goodbye to culture and tread carefully through the rubble of Britain's great art institutions. According to Nicholas Serota, writing in yesterday's Guardian, this country is about to experience the greatest crisis in arts and heritage since 1940.

While stakeholders from across the cultural sector were busy painting the bleak landscape that a potential 30 per cent cut to the culture budget will create, others spent the day discussing dynamic ways out of the funding black hole.

At a closed seminar day held at London's Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA), the digital marketing strategists Blue State Digital and Cogapp gathered marketing heads of many of the UK's leading museums and galleries to discuss the potential of raising money through online marketing campaigns.

Rich Mintz, vice-president of strategy at Blue State, designed the online framework for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and is the latest consultant to offer UK organisations US-style advice.

He believes that arts organisations and political parties can apply similar fundraising tactics thanks to the emotional hold they have over their supporters.

"People are drawn to an arts organisation because they're emotionally fired up by them, just like the cause of a political party. The success of online fundraising is based on locating these emotional ties that are at the heart of the institution's interaction with the public.

"These institutions know there's an untapped group of people who they can engage with online. This is about reaching out to supporters who they're not in touch with. The organisation's job is to appear humanised so people will find it easy to hand over their email address and take the first step."

Philanthropy

But when this reporter bumped into jolly marketing men from the Tate and the British Museum as they left the conference, neither organisation would divulge whether it is going to employ such mechanisms.

Soon, however, there might not be a choice. The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told the New Statesman: "Arts organisations will have to become independent entrepreneurial fundraising bodies. They must have both the ability and responsibility to raise money for capital projects and also for endowments to give them funding security over the long term."

As it stands, UK arts organisations aren't reliant on one source of funding. Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, told the New Statesman, "In factm for every £1 of public money invested, a further £2 is leveraged in from elsewhere, from box office, private income, philanthropy and endowments. Public money, distributed via an arm's-length organisation, mixes with money from other sources to allow artists free expression and to create great art."

But, as the Conservative Party paves the way for a US-style financial regime -- in which the Tate and the British Museum will have to secure money from wealthy philanthropists -- Davey warns, "It is essential that philanthropy is not a substitute for public funding. Public investment creates confidence in other funders and allows arts organisations to continue making the inspiring, exciting art that they're great at.

"When private money is hard to get, as it is now, providing that public investment stays strong, the art can continue."

With this in mind, it's no wonder Serota worries that cuts announced on 20 October "will threaten the whole ecosystem" of culture in Britain.

Survival of the marketing fittest

It's hard to ignore Blue State's success during the Obama campaign -- mobilising three million individual donors to make a total of 6.5 million donations online, adding up to over $500m in online donations.

But, as UK arts institutions fight for private funding and individual contributions, their ability to stay afloat might come to depend on the effectiveness of their own marketing campaigns.

And if they experience any of Blue State's previous success, money won't be the worry. What is at stake here is the quality of the institutions that seek survival in the first place.

If a donor's allegiance was once based on the calibre of a gallery's curators, his support might now be dictated by the strength of that gallery's marketing managers.

Warning: don't be alarmed to find Barbara Hepworth sculptures atop the latest media platform instead of their usual pedestals next time you're at the Tate.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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