We live in shifting and challenging times. Money from Government at both Central and Local level is being cut, and the Arts are certainly no stranger to the effects of this. The National Theatre recently reported in an article for Fundraising Magazine that it had suffered a cut of 30% in government funding in the last decade or so. But in these straightened times, why should we fundraise for the Arts at all? Aren’t there more important priorities when people are living off food banks and suffering from poor mental health, to name just two examples?
There was discussion of this in the greatly inspiring recent get-together for RAISE: Arts, Culture and Heritage. This is an initiative funded by the Arts Council that is allowing the Institute of Fundraising to offer training, networking and mentoring to those working in these fields. There hasn’t been enough of this type of opportunity for those working in Arts and Culture, and it was great to be a small part of this initiative, but why is it so important right now, more than ever?
As a child of the 80s, my favourite summing up of this came from Mr Keating in Dead Poets’ Society:
“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
That was true in the 1980s, another tough decade for the Arts, and it remains eternally true. In the most challenging parts of the world, where far too many people are living in refugee camps, humans always get together to perform, to read to each other, to sing, to paint and create. These activities bring humanity and bearableness to otherwise unbearable situations. They are the things we have always done, not because they perform a useful economic function, but because they are part of what we are as a species. Stories, visual and oral, help us make sense of things. They allow us to walk in others’ shoes and help us imagine new possibilities. They’re about the art of the possible, and in changing times they can create the road map we need to a better future.
We desperately need medical advances, funding for fundamental and explorative science, justice and a whole list of things that are crucial to sustaining life. But we must never forget the things that make us human. There are enough donations to go around, and there is enough funding from government should they choose to deliver it to the hard-pressed Arts and Culture sector. In depression era America, a key part of Roosevelt’s New Deal was greatly increased funding for Arts and Artists, supporting people such as Jackson Pollock and John Steinbeck.
Lobbying governments to change funding is of course worthwhile and should be pursued, and things can change quickly when a new administration comes in. But Arts and Culture have always made their own luck. Against this background, it is great to see institutions getting out, inspiring donors and asking for big gifts, by getting givers to buy into the amazing and transformational things they are doing. They are helping donors to visualise why it is important to support them. They are dreaming in technicolour, and using their incredible spaces and people to inspire philanthropy. Everyone should be doing that – let’s not wait for Government to wake up. To use the words of Shakespeare, “Let us…on [their] imaginary forces work”.
Am I saying anything new in this? No. Does it need to continue to be said and repeated?
All. The. Time.
Go out and ask and ask proudly, and often. Fund the future.
Shaun Horan is Joint CEO and Co-founder of Halpin Partnership, a management consultancy specialising in nonprofits such as the arts and higher education.