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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.