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

Nick Clark
Wednesday 19 June 2013 11:37 BST
Smart moves: John Studzinski
Smart moves: John Studzinski (Bloomberg)

"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.

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