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How to succeed in arts-business

Kath Walters

Kath Walters is a freelance writer and regular contributor to
Business Review Weekly.

Busy, overworked artists will feel like tearing out their hair before they finish page 5 of a new publication from the Australian Business Arts Foundation (AbaF)—called Business Arts Partnerships—because it is long-winded, repetitive and poorly presented. Resist! Buried in the bureaucratic language is a great deal of very useful information about how arts organisations can win cash and in-kind support from Australian companies.
Many artists and arts companies have tried and failed to get businesses to back their activities. Their failure is hardly surprising. AbaF’s executive director, Winsome McCaughey (a former Lord Mayor of Melbourne) points out in her foreword that business support of the arts in Australia is “abysmally low”, with just one per cent of companies supporting the arts, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The most recent figures put the amount at $29 million, compared with $281 million in sponsorship for sport.

AbaF’s job is to increase business support for the arts. AbaF evolved from the Australia Foundation for Culture and the Humanities created in 1995, following a $3 million donation from the man who started Australia’s biggest private company, packaging giant Visy Industries, Richard Pratt. Pratt, whose personal wealth is $3.3 billion according to Business Review Weekly (May 2001), is a well-known arts supporter, in the past spending an estimated $10 million a year on personally selected arts organisations. AbaF operates at arms length from the government within the portfolio of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

For arts companies that do manage to secure corporate partners, the results can be spectacular. In 1999, after Global Arts Link (formerly the Ipswich Regional Art Gallery) teamed up with Queensland Government-owned electricity company, CS Energy, visits to the centre jumped 460% in 12 months, from 16,000 to 90,000 a year! The chief executive of CS Energy, Richard Cottee, is also delighted with the benefits of the partnership. Cottee says: “We have offered money and in-kind support, and in return we have gained brand recognition. More importantly, we are demonstrating what kind of business we want to build—business that develops relationships with the community.”

The Australian Chamber Orchestra and computer giant IBM also have had a successful partnership, as have MICMusic (Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition) and car-maker DaimlerChrysler.

The booklet promotes the idea of partnerships—not sponsorship—between cultural organisations and businesses. Sponsorships are one-sided relationships, essentially a donation that typically pays for a one-off project, according to AbaF. Partnerships are reciprocal, long-term relationships based on benefits for both sides.

The booklet builds its case for taking a partnership approach to raising money from businesses. It then outlines how cultural organisations can build up their own business case to win a partner, suggests how to find an appropriate partner, how to present the deal and, if successful, how to manage the relationship.

In the centre of the guide are some very helpful examples of what the authors of the guide (who are not identified) are talking about. This is especially important given that the writing in the guide is sometimes complicated. Take, for example, business needs, defined as: “the requirements that must be met for an enterprise to be able to produce business outcomes.” Then, business assets: “the resources that the enterprise uses to meet its business needs so as to achieve its business outcomes.”

What is missing from the definitions, and from the guide as a whole, are more actual examples taken from arts organisations themselves, of what the authors are trying to explain. While there are a few inspirational quotes from company CEOs and arts organisations, the publication would have been brought to life (and made easier to understand) with the use of case studies: short real-life examples summarising the experiences of arts companies that have successfully attracted partnerships.

And the guide could stand much less foreshadowing of what is to come in the next section or paragraph. That said, the guide’s overall structure is good, and the information presented is well thought out and comprehensive, such as the section about managing the partnership.

Despite the difficulties, skim-reading this guide is NOT recommended. Important—nay, astonishing—facts are among its paragraphs, essential information for anyone planning to embark on a corporate partnership. Take this little bombshell sitting quietly at the bottom of page 7 about the “real” cost of raising private funding: “Some experienced [arts] organisations report that it can cost up to $5 for every $6 of private funds raised.” That fact certainly jerked my highlighter into action.

At the back of the booklet are some useful appendices, including further reading and relevant websites, and some statistical data about the arts.

Hopefully, the companies targeted by arts organisations for support will have read AbaF’s companion publication, The Business Case for Cultural Investment, prepared specifically for the business sector by Australia’s fifth largest accounting company, Arthur Andersen.

For more information and copies of Business Arts Partnerships, visit
their website

Kath Walters is a freelance writer and regular contributor to
Business Review Weekly.

RealTime issue #47 Feb-March 2002 pg. 11

© Kath Walters; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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