One of the key phrases that any arts manager has to deal with on an almost daily basis is resilience and sustainability. It is enshrined within Goal 3 of Arts Council’s manifesto Great Art and Culture For Everyone. It is key to strategy development for the sector – arts organisations developing alternative financial models, philanthropy programmes and partnerships as public funding comes under ever more pressure.
Like many others the arts sector awaits the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review next month with baited breath, fingers crossed that further cuts to public investment in arts and culture is minimal and that the value that we’re consistently asked to demonstrate is understood by those holding larger purse strings. And it should be seen as an investment not subsidy. The evidence is there about the positive impacts that arts and culture has on individuals, communities and places – I have no doubt our city would be poorer without it.
The challenge laid down to the arts sector in the last five years has been to embrace change and to do things differently – not to rely on public funding, but to attract philanthropic giving. And one thing that the arts sector always does well is to adapt creatively and brilliantly to these challenges. However, the pace of change, the development of significant philanthropic income, the creation of new business partnerships is a long game – and for many – especially those operating in smaller, rural areas this is not developing at a pace matching the level of cuts they face to public investment. And that certainly isn’t through lack of effort or interest from the arts organisations themselves.
In Lincoln, we’re examining closely the role of Arts and Culture in shaping the city that we want people to live in, visit and work. There is a collective responsibility on all sides to ensure that this happens. The arts community has a responsibility to clearly articulate what it offers to those living in and around their base. We hope that the business community recognises that for their workforce to develop there is a clear benefit to be derived from investing in arts and culture. The communication of that offer is also an area that needs to be constantly reviewed and improved.
The Lincoln Cultural and Arts Partnership recently held a networking meeting to bring together artists, arts organisations and businesses to discuss ideas around how these partnerships could be developed. The clear thing for me that emerged is that the dialogue and rhetoric needed to change. Sponsorship in the traditional sense of the word is no longer to my mind the right way to do things. At Lincoln Drill Hall our partnerships with business are based around a mutual understanding of need – Our need to develop new long term audiences for our work, to attract investment enabling us to continue presenting that work, matched to the needs of the business, whether that be around access to our work for their staff, opportunities to reach new customers or markets or simply to invest in a facility that will help them to attract new staff with the knowledge that there are things for them to do in the city at night other than nightclubs.
At this meeting I stated that my belief was that none of my organisation’s current business partnerships came about initially because of a particular piece of art. It was the institutional benefits of having an organisation like ours that warranted investment. Certainly, the offer of a logo in our brochure, although a nice added extra is not going to get the business community jumping over themselves to invest in us on its own.
For other cohorts different approaches need to be taken. For individuals we’ll be rolling out a new friends scheme shortly – one that is different to many others as it is about individuals supporting us because we’ve won over their hearts and minds, not simply because we give them lots of benefits. The Chair of our trustees wrote an article this week about the charitable side of our business – something that many still find puzzling about the arts sector. As he pointed out though, the aim of any charity is to make things a little better and we’re no different. I firmly believe that the city is a better place because of Lincoln Drill Hall. But again, whilst we have developed some clarity around how we can go about this using the arts, we recognise that those messages need to constantly evolve.
Practically, the resilience of our organisation is at the forefront of my work. We’re exploring Arts Council funds set up specifically to address some of the sustainability needs of the organisations it funds. We’re developing new ways to support the creation of new artistic work in the city through partnerships with emerging artists that could see new exciting work developed right in the heart of Lincoln. We’re half way through a leadership mentoring programme run by The De Vos Institute for Arts Management in the USA – a programme that has challenged us to think afresh about our artistic policies, our fundraising approach and the way we market and communicate our value to our audiences and stakeholders.
I can’t see the climate shifting away from this course anytime soon. Sustainability and resilience will be two words that will continue to be central to the development of the arts in this country. I firmly believe that for organisations to be truly sustainable they need to have that mixed funding model that sees earned income, public investment and charitable giving all combining to make a thriving organisation that feeds a burgeoning artistic pulse that provides the heartbeat for the city. A city with culture driving business growth, the visitor economy and most importantly making things a little bit better for those that choose to make Lincoln their home.