Cian O’Brien, artistic director of Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, outlines the mutually beneficial relationship that exists between business and the arts.
The arts are a force to be reckoned with. They are a powerful tool to educate and enrich our society. In 2012, 1.9 million people attended an arts event in Ireland; a considerably greater number than the 1.3 million people who attended GAA matches across the country.
The public’s appetite for art across all disciplines is huge and arts organisations strive to meet this demand with limited resources through government funding.
The arts increase people’s capacity for life, they help us to interpret and adapt to the world around us. They bring passion and beauty to our lives; they can provide a safe place where people can build their skills and self-esteem; they are a vital channel for the expression of discontent and for the proposal of improvement. Fueled by a changing landscape, the relationships between business and the arts can be potent and influential, strengthening local communities.
Initiatives that develop these relationships − like Ireland’s first National Plan on CSR ‘Good for Business, Good for Community’, lauched in April by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, Richard Bruton TD − offer businesses and artists the opportunity to create dynamic partnerships that will have lasting impact.
The benefits of investment
Artists are motivated by inclusivity − by a desire to respond to the world around them and to create inspirational links with communities. If nothing else, the 1.9 million visits to arts events in Ireland in 2012 show that people need cultural nourishments, now more than ever, if only for escape and entertainment.
Private investment, particularly from businesses, is a key element of the operating funding model for artists and cultural organisations in Ireland.
But why invest in the arts? Certainly the chances of significant economic return are rare, but the connection between a business and an arts organisation can have major mutual benefits, enabling businesses to create hugely effective CSR strategies.
Take, for example, the National Theatre in London. Its 10 year partnership with foreign currency exchange company Travelex has yielded incredible results for both companies. The sponsorship allows the National Theatre to offer £12 tickets to some of its most popular shows. This has not only changed the audience profile at the National Theatre but also enhances the public’s awareness of the Travelex brand, offering them world-class theatre at bargain prices.
In 2012, Project Arts Centre welcomed over 80,000 people to the centre, employed over 400 artists and cultural workers and presented over 600 performances and exhibitions. Unlike many other arts organisations, 67% of our audience are under 40, and they predominantly live in Dublin city. They are your customers and your employees. Digitally-engaged, they are motivated by cultural trends and a desire for high quality experiences.
A small investment in the arts by a business can have an extraordinary effect.”
For businesses who consider investing in the arts, it is quite clear that the publicity and positive branding attached to the sponsorship of arts events are of considerable value. This is not only an external feature; it can help to boost morale and productivity internally. The opportunity for employees and clients to engage with the arts can open up new conversations, inspire new ways of working and strengthen relationships beyond the boardroom.
A small investment in the arts by a business can have an extraordinary effect. Take Mason Hayes & Curran’s on-going support of Temple Bar Gallery & Studios in Dublin which has created an education programme for three local schools. This partnership will have a real impact on the artistic education of the children supported by this programme and provides further employment opportunities for artists and expands the impact of both Mason Hayes & Curran and Temple Bar Gallery & Studios in their local community.
Any arts organisation worth its salt requires sustained investment. While occasional one-off donations are welcome and much needed, the opportunity to seriously invest in the long-term development of a cultural organisation is a serious commitment and something which can be intensely satisfying for all parties involved.
Government support for the arts, through the Arts Council or Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht plays a vital role in sustaining our cultural infrastructure, but investment and support by businesses into the arts can lift an organisation’s vision and potential to a new level.
Artists and cultural organisations must find a way to better communicate their value and offer to businesses, philanthropists, trusts and foundations.
Our impact goes beyond numbers. Yes, artists and cultural organisations are resilient, efficient and well-managed but this is not the only way we can chart the significance of culture and art in society. Ireland is lauded internationally for our culture. The Government promote our vibrant arts scene as one of the key factors to rebuild our image abroad and to persuade multinationals to move to Ireland.
We are not just looking for hard cash. When Project Arts Centre partners with a business we offer many benefits to fuel the relationship. Similar to the work we present and the artists we support, we are motivated by the idea of creative partnerships; the relationship between businesses and arts organisations are not one-way streets.
Of course cash investment makes a huge difference, but the opportunities to build new audiences, for artists to share their work practices and the satisfaction of a shared vision are the real catalysts. Much like business leaders, the artists we work with at Project Arts Centre are motivated by new ways of thinking and innovation.
Using resources effectively, we are proud of our ability to create art that inspires, challenges and empowers audiences and artists alike.
Cian O’Brien is artistic director of Project Arts Centre, based in Temple Bar, Dublin.
This article was originally published in the Business & Finance Corporate Giving 50 2014. A special report on some of Ireland’s top CSR-minded companies.