by Michelle Lefevre
Coming soon to an application form near you is Arts Council England's secret plan to fight government funding cuts to the arts with a £40Million philanthropy push. The plan is a secret because they won't talk about it, at least no yet, so we, here in TheLab™, thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the potential pitfalls of the funding monoliths latest big idea.
We should point out that this plan is not actually ACE's at all. It's been pushed on them by the coalition government via the Department for Culture Media and Sport. ACE didn't do a whole lot of pushing back though so they're fair game.
The £40Million in funding, imaginatively titled "Catalyst Arts", will be broken up into the three parts but, essentially, it's all about "enabling" arts organisations to enhance their fund raising abilities so they can plunder the hitherto untapped vast wealth of private individuals and corporations. Or at least that's the theory.
The Fundraiser Gambit
One possible hypothesis is a dance company, let's say a mid-scale one, get's a £25,000 grant to employ a specialist fundraiser for 12 months to, you know, raise some funds.
If the fund-raiser manages to score £25,000 then the whole thing has been a waste of time because ACE could have simply handed over the £25,000 to the company for their artistic work. To make the whole thing finically viable the dance company would probably have to raise double the amount it cost to employ the specialist, if not more.
Since the mid-scale dance company is not living in a bubble then they will have to compete with all the other arts organisations out there for the same limited sponsorship money that is, allegedly, available. Unless the specialist has a "no compete" clause in their contract they could, potentially, be working for more than one organisation at a time.
From the specialists point of view they could care less who actually does well out of employing them since they get paid anyway, have no long term commitment to any company and they will only ever brag about their success stories, not their failures.
It's also not clear if there is a significant pool of fund raising talent available for companies to hire. We feel sure that many will come out of the woodwork when they get the scent of free money in the air but the quality of their skills will almost certainly be untested in the arts arena.
If their skills have been tested then where have they been all this time?
The David and Goliath Gambit
Large scale organisations like Sadler's Wells and the Royal Opera House currently spend hundreds of thousands of pounds every year on fund raising. Organisations of their size have entire teams of people devoted to doing just that and only that.
Does ACE imagine that these large-scale players are all going to step back and make way for all the small and mid-scale companies who, thanks to the cuts, are going to be looking to the same corporate sponsors for support?
Also, does ACE imagine that Sadler's Wells, for example, is going to give up all its fund raising tricks and their list of contacts to anybody who asks?
The idea that the large-scale is going to come across as all magnanimous to help the smaller fish in the pond is completely laughable especially if the big fish are going to get hurt in the process.
Additionally, more often than not, large-scale organisations have the one thing that corporate sponsors are really looking for when they give money. Big shiny buildings with meeting rooms, conference halls, caterers and splashy shows with expensive programs for them and their corporate buddies.
Dance companies, for the most part, don't have those things, so what are they going to offer in return for the corporate shilling?
They could try offering dinner dates with their dancers, as Scottish Ballet did a few years back, but such things are not recommended unless you want to be hauled across the coals for the rest of your life.
The USA Gambit
Much has been made of the way the USA deals with the arts. Public funding is relatively low while private giving is relatively high but the UK is not the USA, not even a little bit.
That might sound blindingly obvious but bear with us here. First of all the United States is a vast country that covers four time zones with more cultural and socio-political differences than you can shake a few million sticks at. California is nothing like Illinois which is nothing like St Louis which is nothing like New York which, in turn, is nothing like California.
Ask a theatre company in Minnesota or Connecticut if they find it as easy, relatively speaking, to raise funding compared to a theatre company in New York.
Covering that vast country you have a plethora of state and federal laws that help or hinder cultural organisation to raise money from private sources, mostly in the shape of tax incentives. The UK has few such incentives and thus far the DCMS and the Treasury have announced no firm or coherent plans to introduce any.
Size also plays a part in the competitive nature of actually raising money. A mid-scale theatre company in New York State will be unlikely to try and tap the same funding sources as a mid-scale dance company in Washington State, some 3,000 miles to the west.
In the UK it's safe to say that arts organisations in Liverpool, Newcastle, Brighton, Manchester and Birmingham are all going to be going after the same potential sources of sponsorship. To put it simply, this country isn't big enough to stop everybody from every art form bumping into one another as they seek out private sponsors.
The We're Gonna Ignore The Fact That Companies Already Do This Gambit
If you have ever filled out an application for funding from ACE then you will be well aware of the fact that the funding monolith does not fund any project to 100% of its cost and they never have.
Even if your company is an NPO/RFO you don't get all the money you need to operate.
All arts organisations raise money from other sources, in some cases dozens of sources, so they can carry out their activities.
Most of this money comes from local authorities, charities, foundations and development agencies. It's somewhat ludicrous of ACE and the DCMS to think that for the last twenty years or so everybody has been willfully ignoring the £25Million ACE claims they will be able to raise over the next four years when Catalyst Arts starts running.
The Match Funds Gambit
Some of the money from the program is going to be used for match funding. If you get money from a sponsor then ACE will, if your application is successful, match that sponsorship money with some of their own. So far so good.
What's not clear is why this match funding is going to act as incentive to the potential sponsor. Why do they care that your company will get more money from ACE if they give you some of their money?
There is certainly an incentive for the company trying to raise the money but it won't make it any easier for them to get the sponsorship in the first place and that's the really hard part of the equation.
No More Gambits
From what we know at the moment Catalyst Arts doesn't seem to address any of the fairly serious issues outlined above never mind the fact that the arithmetic doesn't add up. Spending £40Million over 4 years and only guesstimating that you'll make an additional £25Million for the arts across a country of over 40 million people is a pretty poor investment.
Companies that recieve grants to employ fund raising "experts" won't be able to retain those experts without additional funding year on year. If the fund raising "expert" is raising money just so they can retain their own job then........ well, you get the point.
We feel sure that ACE will be able to explain all of this when and if they ever put somebody up for interview. Given their track record on NPOs, RFOs, Sustain and lot's of other big ideas there's probably not a great deal of confidence that the answers they give will make any sense.