The Playgoer: "A Culture of Asking"

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"A Culture of Asking"

"The history of arts organisations shows that success in fundraising often leads to the employment of more fundraisers, not more artists."

-Lyn Gardner, The Guardian.

If you don't believe her, look at the job listings in any issue of "ArtSearch" and count the number of entries under "Development," compared to "Artistic."

Gardner is commenting upon the rising Tory party's proposed arts policy for the UK, should it win the next elections.  (A high likelihood over there.)  Not surprisingly for conservatives, their solution is what they themselves are calling, "an American philanthropy culture," which they define as:

just as we could have a better culture of giving, we could have a better culture of asking, with major organisations building up their endowments as another pillar of income – America has £14bn[billion]-worth. Most organisations think that if they build endowments, their treasury budget would be cut. We would offer five years of funding in return for a commitment to build up endowment, so developing a philanthropy culture.
Here's what I love about conservative economists' approach to social problems: you come up with a fancy phrase like "culture of philanthropy" and all it means really is, hey,let's cut the budget so we can cut taxes and be popular, and we'll let some rich individuals handle the problem.

Just like "culture of personal responsibility" means, we want to cut welfare spending, so you're responsible now for your own poverty.

"Culture of asking", huh?  Great.  Why not call it "culture of begging."  And indeed, to return to Gardner's point about fundraising begetting only more fundraising, a culture of asking necessitates the hiring and prioritizing of well, "askers."  Which means you also spend more on the perks of philanthropy: the annual "gala," for instance, and the sheer marketing costs of such perks. (Christ, how much does BAM spend on those monthly "Friends of BAM" paper mailings!) 

More wisdom from Gardner:
philanthropy is no quick fix for the arts: it doesn't take five years to build up endowments, it takes 20 or 30 years of sustained effort. And how would that sustained effort fit in with Hunt's [Tory "shadow" culture minister Jeremy Hunt] desire for organisations that are leaner and meaner and spending less on admin? [....]What's more, although a few bankers might be persuaded that public redemption lies in grand philanthropic gestures or conspicuous compassion, there's a danger that the boards of arts organisations often become over-dominated by givers who use their financial muscle to gain a say. Completely unselfish giving of the "coins in a bucket" variety becomes a far rarer phenomenon when we're talking thousands or millions.
Indeed, once "giving" gets into the five- or six-figure range, it's no longer just a "gift."

1 comment:

The Playgoer said...

Interesting to see the NYT reporting on this very same trend today--across ALL of Europe:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/arts/design/21abroad.html?hp

Is the legacy of State/Royal Patronage finally fading?