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.

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What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era