colourful paint and brush

A kick up the arts for philanthropy

By Lynn Simmonds 29 October 2015

The arts are under threat. With the sector facing potential cuts of up to 40% in the upcoming spending review, the arts needs their loyal supporters—now more than ever.

Having worked in the arts, and generally being an arts enthusiast, I would count myself as one of those loyal supporters. I believe in art for arts sake—that art has an intrinsic value and is crucial to the well-being of our society. Because of this I regularly give my support to charities in the arts sector.

And I’m not alone in this. A belief in the intrinsic value of the arts and a loyalty to a particular charity or art form has influenced many people to fund in this sector. Often this money is given to ensure that art continues to be produced—commissioning pieces, funding galleries or operas and so on. But the inherent worth of art means it can also be used as a powerful tool to affect change. I have seen lives transformed through participation in the arts—so while its intrinsic value that motivates my giving to the sector, I do think it is important to look beyond this.

Today NPC has published The art of philanthropy, a paper that aims to help philanthropists do just that. It argues that there is an opportunity for funders to consider how their loyalty to the arts can achieve broader social outcomes. The report highlights the full extent of the value brought by arts charities—which includes, but goes beyond, the intrinsic. It does so in the hope that philanthropists may think more strategically about their giving.

Philanthropy in the arts could support initiatives that provide opportunities for those not otherwise able to access the arts—perhaps because of financial limitations, disability or illness, or even just a lack of awareness. It could fund projects which channel the intrinsic value of the arts to bring about social value: supporting those with mental illness, for example, or providing outlets for those experiencing homelessness. It could also fund arts education. Teaching children about the arts (and about other subjects through the arts) can improve educational outcomes, and ensure the future of the arts for the next generation.

In short, philanthropists harnessing the loyalty they have to the art forms they love could have a dramatic effect on the funding landscape, and could unlock the full potential of those art forms to the benefit of society.

There are challenges of course. Currently, philanthropy in the arts is skewed towards large, national organisations who can shout the loudest about their work. Moreover, it seems that those larger organisations mostly reside in London. With its international reputation, it is indisputable that London is an important part of the arts ecology in the UK. Yet for many arts charities, the focus on investment in London can feel like a competition between the giants in the capital and the rest of the sector.

Encouraging more funding outside of London and the South East is not just about fairness, or increasing the diversity of voices heard. At the launch of The art of philanthropy, Sir Roger de Haan spoke of the transformational power of the arts to regenerate our towns and revitalise our communities—as demonstrated in his home town, Folkestone. So as well as the value strategic funding within the arts could add to our lives, it could also hugely benefit our economy.

Like most organisations in the charitable sector, arts charities are facing their share of funding challenges and scrutiny. Arts charities need their supporters and they need them to remain loyal to their belief in the intrinsic value of the arts. But the sector also needs its supporters to think more broadly how their loyalty could help bring about even more social good through the arts.

You can download the full report for free here. To share your thoughts about this paper, or to see what others have said, visit us on twitter via @NPCthinks using the hashtag #ArtsPhilanthropy.