What Philanthropy does to the Arts Business Model

You would be rightly outraged if you discovered that Focus Ireland charged a homeless person for their services; and you’d probably take to the streets with pitchforks and torches if Concern Worldwide started charging famine victims for food support services.  Such behavior is completely contrary to the principles of charity and works against the very heart of what we understand as philanthropy.

And yet this is precisely what arts organisations are asked to do: charge our end users for our services, and then ask them for charitable donations. This is like Focus charging a homeless person for their services and then asking them for a contribution!

Every arts organisation has experienced this absurdity. As a potential donor once said to me “My partner and I spend a €1000 each a year on tickets, our tax contributes to your grant, and you want me to give you more money?” Its a good question: either charge the necessary price at the point of consumption or make everything free at the point of use because its a public good. But there’s a sleight of hand about arts being both free and commercial, both public good and wealthy private interest that – interestingly – goes to the heart of questions on value and inequality. 

This conceptual sleight of hand means that securing philanthropic support for the arts is different – very, very different – from securing it for “real” charitable causes. This difference means that if your organisation commits to securing philanthropic investment then your Business Model will need to make some very, very fundamental changes. Continue reading


Philanthropy and the Arts – What are the Odds?

€8,919,000 is the total amount of Private Investment (sponsorship and donations) raised by 177 Clients of the Arts Council Ireland in 2014.  That’s according to the 2into3 Private Sector Investment into the Arts Report: 2016, commissioned by the Arts Council. It is, to my knowledge, the latest such report available For clarity, the concept of “Private Investment” in this context is composed of Sponsorship (€3.609 million) and Voluntary Income  (€5.31 million) , which in turn is composed of gifts, donations, friends schemes, bequests etc. That’s an average – in the sense of an arithmetic mean – of just over €50,000 per client. Except that – anecdotally – very, very few organisations raised anything close to €50,000  private investment in that year. So, the question is, even with the best fundraising training in the world, what are the factors affecting my chances of raising €50K in 2019? Continue reading

“I have a way? Is that better than a plan?” The Truth About Strategy

I’ve spent a lot of time these last few months thinking about strategy, and talking to various people about strategy, and developing strategies.  In seems that within the culture and creative sector Strategy has become something of a buzzword. Strategy is right up there with “well being”, “co-working” and “entrepreneur”, “growth mindset” and “multi-disciplinary”  etc.  Its a word that’s used in a lot of contexts but its actually very difficult to get agreement on what the word actually means (It’s very revealing to ask a roomful of business students or a board of directors to define strategy). Continue reading

Artists, Housework and Learning to Unsee

Had a fascinating conversation with a student about business training for artists. As we all know the real problem in the development of artists careers is that they have no business skills. Which of course is a handy way of shifting the responsibility for the failures in the arts sector onto the shoulders of the artist, and making sure that the artists know that they’re not as grown up as the business folk. As the leading cultural economist Arjo Klamer points out the heroic figure of the Cultural Entrepreneur is primarily a fictional character in a very particular economic narrative.

There are however other economic narratives that we can consider.

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Report on Culture 2025 – A Campaign Update

Download the Joint Oireachtas Report on Culture, Arts and Heritage Here

“Far too many wonderful words have been written about culture in Ireland and far too little has been done that has been sustainable”

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

I think its important to take a moment and review what last years Uplift petition and the lobbying and actions it provoked have achieved to date.

Last year – in June I think –  Fianna Fail’s Niamh Smyth, in response to this petition,  put down a motion and called a special debate  in the Dail. In view of a packed visitors gallery various ministers spoke to the importance of Culture, Arts and Heritage and of course the majority voted against the motion. In the course of the debate we were assured by Minister Humphreys that the existing configuration of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was ideal and no dedicated ministry was possible or desirable, and that additional funding would be made available as and when the economy improves.

Now, just over a year later we have a Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and a Taoiseach promising to double the funding to the Arts over the next seven years.  Given the very low starting point doubling over a seven period is not a particularly ambitious target,  but it is something we can measure progress against.

I’d call that a win. Well done.

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No Artists Need Apply

The Social Welfare Pilot Scheme for Artists

So the government has announced a new pilot scheme that “allows” artists to be self-employed and claim social welfare. Of course, this is a pilot scheme and only applies to visual artists (subject to verification by the VAI) and writers (subject to verification by The Irish Writers Centre). For the twelve month duration of the scheme performing artists will not be eligible, because as we all know they’re not really artists at all. (There’s an interesting facebook thread on this here led by Declan Gorman)

According to the Irish Times report on the scheme the artist will have to be registered as self-employed with the Revenue Commissioners and be able to demonstrate at least 50 per cent of their income has been derived from their art in the preceding year to be eligible.

“Once a person has been classified as a self-employed artist on the DSP system they would not be subject to activation process for at least a year.

The conditions associated with jobseeker’s allowance will continue to apply, as they do for all other claimants. Artists will have to prove that they are genuinely seeking other work, taking part in courses or classes like CV preparation, job-searching or referral to JobPath, Tús and Jobs Clubs, for example”.

I want you to think about that last phrase for a moment: “Artists will have to prove that they are genuine9ly seeking other work, taking part in courses or classes like CV preparation, job-searching or referral to JobPath, Tús and Jobs Clubs, for example”.

Its time we got something out in the open, so here it is:

THERE ARE NO JOBS FOR ARTISTS. NONE.artist_coder_featured

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman}

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Arts and The Cannibal Economy

I was going to write a blog in response to the funding allocation made to the Arts, Culture and Heritage sector in the recent budget, until I remembered that the allocation is actually irrelevant.  Even if we got to the almost mythical level of 0.6% of GDP (difficult given the near fictional nature of our GDP) we still wouldn’t create the kind of sector we all dream about, we still wouldn’t create meaningful careers or alleviate the systemic poverty and its associated illnesses.

Here’s a fact that nobody’s acknowledging: the vast majority of Artists across Europe (and the world) are poor – regardless of the levels of state subsidy. Its possible – as leading Cultural Economist Hans Ebbing points out  – that subsidy itself is responsible for the poverty.

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Everything you wanted to know about Arts Marketing

An old theatre colleague of mine – a brilliant teacher of actors – once remarked that you could take any single acting exercise and if you explored it deeply enough for long enough it would reveal everything you need to know about acting.  Watching that person in action made me wonder if the same principle applies to any practice.

So if we look at the very current practice of Arts Marketing what will it tell us about Arts and Culture? About our perception and understanding of Arts and Culture? After all  academic courses and modules in Arts Marketing abound; there are MOOCs, there are countless books on the topic, thousands of articles and many journals – not to mention endless opportunities for consultants to conduct audience research, run pilot schemes and develop organisational strategies.

But when we say “Arts Marketing” what are we actually talking about and what actually is the practice of Arts Marketing? Continue reading