Saving the world of art with business

Christena Appleyard talks to Colin Tweedy, who believes that private funding is the only way forward for culture. Though there are limits ...
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The Independent Online

The first big report on the private sector's vision for the arts in Britain is to be published this autumn by Colin Tweedy, the chief executive of Arts & Business. "I will not be arguing that it will be compulsory for ballerinas to have logos printed on the tutus," he says with a weary smile.

He does, however, expect at least some reactions along those lines. But Tweedy is a man with a mission: He believes that the present recession has made the need for a debate about private funding of the arts even more urgent and that the business community should no longer have to accept being silent partners in the arts world.

In the report, A Private Policy for the Arts – the first of its kind – he will argue that, in future, it will not be enough to expect businesses to hand over sponsorship money without having a direct input into project development and management.

"It's one of the chief frustrations in my job," Tweedy says. At all the conferences and gatherings I attend, the focus is always on the public sector as if the private sector is just a jolly add-on. In fact, the funding for the arts from individuals, trusts and corporations is increasingly significant in the UK.

"The current economic situation means that the contribution from the public sector is going to be frozen – if not cut – for maybe eight to 10 years. It's critical to realise that the only contribution that has the potential for any real growth is going to be from the private sector, and that has to be acknowledged," he says, adding that because the private sector is likely to emerge earlier from the recession than the public sector, its contributions will be even been more important.

"But it is difficult to get people to talk about the private-sector contribution. It's as if there is a bit of a bad smell when it comes to the private sector and the arts."

According to the latest available figures, private-sector art funding – trusts, individuals and corporations – amounts to £687m a year. Tweedy believes that this amount can be increased if arts organisations and the Government make an extra effort to involve companies and individual donors in the process.

In particular, he has identified the rising power of a new generation of business people he calls "venture philanthropists".

"I talk to these people all the time and they are keen but they don't want to be just passive givers. They have the experience and skills to make a more dynamic contribution.

"We are in the process of setting up a new advisory board which will include top business people and one or two from the public sector. We are hoping they will provide a permanent sounding board for government at a national and local level.

"You can't take private money for granted. Business people aren't obligated to give. They are not hard-wired to do so. The case has to be made and in terms they can see that it is going to be useful to them. But there is a lot of confusion – even about the tax breaks available. People think there aren't any. In fact, there are enormous tax breaks."

Our conversation is taking place at the Blueprint Café in Butler's Wharf, round the corner from his company's London office. Tweedy points out that the restaurant is a testament to Sir Terence Conran's trailblazing attempt at mixing business and the arts by erecting his restaurant and flats complex with the Design Museum at its core.

Tweedy, 54, who was a guest at Sir Terence's son Jasper's 50th birthday house party the previous weekend, is one of the most widely connected and well-respected people operating in the arts and business world. His CV, which includes reading English at Oxford, a spell at Yale, professional acting, merchant banking and financial public relations, makes him an adroit ambassador for both camps. He is a street-smart Renaissance Man.

His personal style has also attracted the help of the great and the good. The president of Arts & Business is the Prince of Wales. Baroness Kennedy is its chairman. Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley are vice-presidents and George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, has recently joined the board.

Tweedy may love the arts but he means business, and his joke about the logo and tutu is a carefully pitched reminder of the amount of corporate control over rival sports sponsorships. "We have to look again at the huge sums being spent on sports sponsorship. There is no doubt in my mind that some of that money should be redirected towards the arts. I think, particularly in the current climate, that business would find the arts a more useful place to be," he says.

"Too much of sport sponsorship is about client entertainment. Investors and shareholders don't want to see photographs of people standing around drinking champagne. It is time for a shift away from sport towards the arts."

Tweedy is not alone in seeing sport as a threat. Other influential voices in the arts world are thought to be gearing up to challenge the current sport spending spree.

"The arts have far more to offer business than sport," he says. "It is a more subtle relationship but ultimately more valuable and with the potential for more value added. And that's the case we have to make."

Arts & Business is a matchmaker for the arts world and the business community. It is a registered charity and is partly funded by the Arts Council – it also provides a broad spectrum of services, from sponsorship evaluations to helping to place non-executive directors. But A&B doesn't confine itself to matchmaking – since 1988 it has placed more than 5,000 people as non-executive directors.

Much of its recent successes have involved linking arts organisations with companies, such as Unilever, and developing new strategies for management.

"I suppose you could call it artistic intervention," says Tweedy. "A lot of work has been done by Lotte Darso at the Copenhagen Business School on using the arts to develop the emotional intelligence and unlock the creativity in the workforce.

"It covers a wide range of opportunities. Companies might choose to have a poet in residence. A big London law firm did this recently and was delighted with the results. Another company, a multinational, brought in a private theatre company that involved the employees in a production of King Lear.

"That was about improving communication skills. Giving and receiving feedback. These are new ways of doing things but more and more of the top companies are moving in this direction now. In Italy, Fiat used photography as a part of the rebuilding strategy for the company.

"We are perfectly placed to facilitate those partnerships in this country," he says.

Tweedy is currently involved in talks with the leading business schools in the UK, such as the Saïd in Oxford, with a view to developing and formalising a number of these new strategies.

"One of the key challenges we face is the question of whether the involvement of business interferes with or compromises the artist. My view is that it does not. Of course, the artist has a right to self-expression. But being stimulated by an outside force – a business being involved – is not going to destroy the creative response.

"Throughout history, there is ample evidence that the right type of patronage has provided us with masterpieces. So why not now?"

HOW CITY BANKS LEND A HAND TO THE CREATIVE

Bank of America, like many City banks, gives generously to British arts projects as part of its philanthropic work. BoA's Charitable Foundation, which gives $200m a year to non-profit groups worldwide, making it the world's second-largest contributor after Wal-Mart Stores, has been working with the National Theatre on a joint project called New Connections. Each year, established playwrights create scripts for performance by schools and youth theatres all over the UK and Ireland, with a final showcase festival at the National Theatre in London.

UBS and Credit Suisse are also big supporters, through Circus Space and The PlaceBe, of young artists and their communities. UBS has backed Circus Space – Britain's largest circus arts organisation – for nearly 20 years, helping thousands of young people, even supporting them through a degree in circus arts. The PlaceBe backs the more vulnerable children from four London boroughs via workshops organised with the National Gallery's education centre.

BNP Paribas, which has long supported the arts in France, will sponsor a sculpture project in England and Wales aimed at youngsters and has worked with Vital Regeneration in the central-London Marylebone area – where BNP Paribas's UK operation is based – to enable underprivileged young people to take guided visits of the Royal Academy and to create sculptures based on what they see.

Other projects include HSBC backing for the British Museum's display of the Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, which has 54 paintings on loan from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur.

Greg Walton

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