John Studzinski: The banker marrying business and the arts

John Studzinski is helping to nurture young theatre directors. He's a living example of how commerce and culture can sit comfortably together

"Most people don't associate those in business with knowing anything about the arts," John Studzinski declares, raising his voice above the hubbub of creative types sharing a drink with philanthropists at a party in London's Young Vic theatre. "People think the arts and business are very different. They are not."

The US-born banker is living proof that the two industries can sit comfortably together, and he believes that each sector can positively influence the other. "Great businessmen have an arts side as well," he says.

Studzinski has combined a glittering career in the City with a long track record of backing and working with a range of arts organisations, particularly to bring through young talent.

The party is celebrating the 10th year of a partnership between the Genesis Foundation, which Studzinski set up in 2001, and the Young Vic to support the professional development of young theatre directors in the UK.

"The idea behind Genesis was very much about nurturing young artists. It's not about sponsoring individual plays or art shows," he says. "It boils down to someone showing trust in you, mentoring you and developing you. Especially your self-confidence."

David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, hails the banker's far-sighted approach and how it "changed the game" for young directors on the programme.

"It's hard to exaggerate how rare this is. It is, to a large extent, due to John Studzinski's deep understanding of how art is made, and how artists become themselves," he adds.

Among the programme's alumni are award-winning theatre and film director Rufus Norris, former ATC Theatre artistic director Bijan Sheibani and Carrie Cracknell, associate director of the Royal Court Theatre.

Cracknell says: "It is a visionary approach. David and John responded to a clear creative gap. The opportunity for artists to be mentored, to be introduced to a network, as well as to be offered practical opportunities, is enormously important."

Genesis has supported talents from young British ballet dancers heading to train at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy to young choral singers at The Sixteen and artists at the Royal College of Art.

The foundation picks artistic partners often because of the talent and vision of the artistic chiefs. Studzinski says: "You have to pick your spots, your lightning rods. David Lan is a lightning rod." Another, he said, was Harry Christophers, conductor and founder of The Sixteen.

The foundation has also developed a significant long-term partnership with the Royal Court. It has supported the International Programme for 12 years at a theatre Studzinski called the "most important in the world for introducing new writing in the English language".

Studzinski arrived in the UK with Morgan Stanley in the early 1980s to oversee the growth of the group's investment banking business in Europe. He joined HSBC in 2003 and after three years moved to the Blackstone Group, the investment and advisory firm where he is a senior managing director and runs Blackstone Advisory Partners.

He is the proud owner of dual British and American passports, and his love for Britain and its heritage comes through strongly in his conversation.

"I do think England and London remain culturally the centre of the world; certainly because of the theatre and the culture of the spoken word but I also think from a human rights and humanitarian perspective it is probably the most open society in the world," he says. "Unless you understand the cultural legacy of British arts and British theatre then you're not going to feel close to this country. It's important in terms of nationalism and loyalty."

Yet, he finds himself dismayed at the current policies adopted by the Government towards the arts and its failure to grasp quite how important they are to the Britain.

"This Government is so worried about short-term rear-view mirror politics that they don't understand the arts are one of the most long-term sustainable investments you can make in this country," he says, adding those who pay taxes expect a cultural dividend. "That's not about freebies; it's about feeling proud to be British."

The Culture Secretary Maria Miller recently demanded arts organisations make the economic case for continued public funding. Studzinski believes the argument has already been won following an Arts Council England report that showed every £1 invested in the arts had a 2.7 times multiplier effect coming back.

He says: "That's very compelling. It not only develops the artist, the audiences, businesses, tourism and hospitality. It also reinforces the culture, gives people pride and reinforces nationalism. It develops jobs."

He is a believer in art for urban renewal pointing to the effect Tate Modern had on its surroundings. He is also chairman of Create, a non-profit group set up last year to bring the arts to areas in east London, especially the more deprived.

As the Government took the axe to arts funding, it tried to encourage philanthropic giving to fill the gap. Studzinski says: "They tried to encourage this without stepping up to the plate themselves."

He continues: "People are going to have to stop using ministerial appointments to the arts as a stepping stone to Health and the Home Office and everything else. It should be an ultimate destination for a serious person, for a serious minister."

Studzinski has also supported some of the largest arts organisations in the UK – he helped raise money for Tate Modern and subsequently gave £5m for the development of its new wing– as well as the youth programmes, but maintains it is the leadership that bring him to the table.

"It's not about aligning yourself with an institution. It's important to support its DNA, the leadership and the visionary talent. Most people give to the British Museum because Neil MacGregor is there, the same with the Tate and Nick Serota," he says.

As the party begins to thin out, it becomes increasingly clear that whatever his manner in the boardroom, Studzinski is in his element among creative talents. And that his passion for supporting the arts, in all its guises, remains undimmed.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea