Recession is blamed as RSC loses 2.1m sponsor

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THE Royal Shakespeare Company suffered a major financial blow yesterday with the decision by Royal Insurance not to renew its pounds 2.1m sponsorship.

The six-year deal with the RSC (the pounds 2.1m is for the current three years only) was the largest single sponsorship of a performing arts company in the UK. Its ending in December 1993 is the clearest signal yet that the recession will have a debilitating effect on business sponsorship of the arts.

It is certain to cause problems for the RSC, which runs five theatres. The company has already lost sponsorship from British Telecom in the past year. Last year Royal Insurance suffered a pre-tax trading loss of pounds 373m.

Adrian Noble, artistic director of the RSC, said: 'This decision marks a new phase in what has been an exemplary sponsorship. We have a full 12 months in which to plan for this change.'

While the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts denies that private companies are pulling back from the arts and emphasises that corporate sponsorship last year increased from pounds 44m to pounds 55m, close examination of the figures reveals a worrying underlying trend.

Corporate memberships - smaller sums given by companies to secure ticket rights and get their names in programmes - dropped by almost 50 per cent to about pounds 8m.

Colin Tweedy, director of the association, said yesterday: 'I'm disappointed for the RSC. It is always difficult to get a new sponsor. But after a certain number of years a large sponsorship like this doesn't have the commercial benefit it had previously. In general, though, I do maintain that arts companies can find new sponsorship despite the recession, though I accept that things are very difficult at the moment.'