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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit