Should Britain's arts organisations accept more corporate sponsorship?

What are the implications of corporations sponsoring the arts?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to go to a concert, see a play or visit an exhibition without encountering some form of corporate sponsorship. This ranges from the discreet company logo at the bottom of exhibition leaflets to the hijacking of venues' names (the Carling Academy, for example, or the O2 Arena).
With state funding for the arts to be cut by 29.6 per cent over the next four years (as announced on 20 October 2010), Britain's arts organisations are facing a tricky choice -- to carry on independently on a shoestring budget or to accept corporate money and risk interference.

The Arcola Theatre in east London has recently moved to a smart new building with more space for performances and youth and community projects. This move would not have been possible without corporate sponsorship, which included a large grant from Bloomberg.
Between 17-21 January 2010, Coutts bank hosted an arts festival in which nine organisations, including London's Royal Court Theatre, the Young Vic and the Royal College of Music, performed for 700 of the bank's clients over three nights. The participating theatres hope that wealthy audience members will be tempted to donate money to help plug the funding gap.
"So what if corporations sponsor the arts?" pragmatists may ask. "What's the problem?" Artists have long relied on wealthy patrons to support them. The Italian Renaissance, for example, was funded in large part by the wealthy Medici family and Coutts has a history of supporting the arts, beginning in the 18th century with its founder Thomas Coutts's donation of money to the Royal Opera House. There's a certain logic to the idea of banks, which are arguably partially responsible for landing the arts in this depressing, cash-strapped situation, doing something to contribute to the culture of the country.
For corporations, the benefits of donating to the arts is clear. As Gordon Pell, deputy chairman of Coutts, concedes, banks do not give money to the arts exclusively for charitable reasons. "This is a marketing exercise," he told The Financial Times. "We get reflected glory . . . Bankers could do with any reflected glory we can get."
However, this relationship may not be mutually beneficial. Are arts organisations, in their desperation for financial support, at risk of entering into a Faustian pact that will compromise their freedom and ethics?
Ben Todd, executive director of the Arcola Theatre, is optimistic. He believes that corporate sponsorship can be harnessed for good ends. "We do what we want and if they don't want to sponsor us next year, that's their choice. We would not take corporate sponsorship from anybody who would want to interfere."
However, artists value their freedom and increased corporate sponsorship does lead to potential conflicts of interest. It is difficult to imagine provocative shows such as Enron, which is about the failures of banking and regulation, The Power of Yes, David Hare's investigation into the 2008 credit crunch, or Fela!, which has a scene that denounces multinational corporations, being sponsored by the very corporations that they invite their audiences to question.
There are also questions of commercial viability. Who will support fringe events that are artistically important but commercially unproductive? Will upcoming talent suffer as a result of corporations not being willing to sponsor events that don't attract a huge crowd?
These are difficult questions and ones that anyone who cares about the arts should ask themselves. After all, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is thrilled at the prospect of corporate philanthropy funding the arts -- he's said he will "play cupid" and match businesses with arts organisations.

In 1951, the Labour government invested in culture, putting on the Festival of Britain at the South Bank Centre in London to cheer up a nation that was in the midst of postwar austerity. On its 60th anniversary, is the coalition government trying to absolve itself of its responsibility to support the arts in this period of austerity by pushing for more corporate philanthropy?

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On the trail of Keith Jarrett's melodies

Lose focus for a second and you can quickly drop the thread of Jarrett's complex improvisational techniques.

“So, this is a piano,” said Keith Jarrett, sitting down at the one that had been placed centre stage for him in the Royal Festival Hall on 20 November. Blowing on his hands to warm them, he acted as if he had never encountered such an instrument before, raising a chuckle from the hundreds of fans who had turned out to see the man in the flesh. For 40 years, Jarrett has been giving concerts like this – alone with the piano, playing his improvised music to a room full of rapt devotees. Notoriously grumpy – and now as well known for his tirades against cameras and coughing audience members as for his early days playing with Miles Davis – he has an almost eerie focus onstage, relieving the tension only very occasionally with his barbed observations about the excellence of the instrument, or the shuffling in the auditorium.

Jarrett gave us a series of short pieces, each rendering separate and distinctive musical ideas. He began with an intricately woven flash of notes in both hands, criss-crossing the melodies that were by turns dark and haunting, or light and dancing. At particularly complex moments, when his arms were crossed over and the notes were flowing from his fingers faster than anyone could imagine them into existence, he leaned his ear down towards the keys, as if physical closeness could help his ideas more swiftly become sound.

A couple of folk-inflected ballads followed; heart-achingly sweet melodies picked out above rumbling, sour arpeggios. Like Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist best known for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Jarrett can’t help adding vocalisations as he plays, which are all the more evident in his quieter compositions. He rose and fell from his stool; we heard his guiding hum along with the melody, as well as the odd strangled shout, yelp and grunt. He might insist on absolute silence from the audience but his own noises seem completely uninhibited as the music spins around him.

Although notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude to his fans, Jarrett was mostly restrained in this outing, allowing himself just one short, sweary outburst about killing a “f***ing camera”. At the age of 70 and with the power to sell out his concerts in just a few hours, you do wonder how much of the persona is genuine and how much of it is just giving the audience what it expects. A case in point came near the end, when he yielded to clamouring and gave a surprisingly simple and straightforward rendition of “Danny Boy”, an encore that long-time fans know well.

Given that this recital was under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, there was surprisingly little in Jarrett’s programme that could easily be identified as jazz. One piece, full of brisk rhythms and chunky chords, gradually revealed itself to be based on a modified 12-bar blues structure and another had haunting overtones surely pulled from the classic American songs of the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this musical ghosting becomes a major preoccupation when you see Jarrett live. It is too easy to distract yourself in trying to follow the auditory trail he has laid for you – was that a bit of Debussy, or Bach, or Glass just then? – and lose the thread of what he plays next. The improvisational technique might have more in common with jazz but now, 40 years on from his bestselling live recording The Köln Concert, it’s difficult to characterise Jarrett’s output as anything other than contemporary classical music.

If it needs a classification, that is. At one point, I became convinced that a particular piece was a Jarrett riff on Beethoven’s Bagatelle No 25 in A Minor – or Für Elise, as it is more commonly known. I was sure it was all there: the extended opening trill, the rising arpeggios in the left hand, the melody cascading from treble to bass and back again. Except, by the time I surfaced from my musing, there was no trace of Beethoven to be heard. A clashing, almost violent melody was dangling over a long drone in the bass. If you try too hard to pin down Jarrett’s music, it moves on without you.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State