The Cultural Poverty Line
This post follows on from my last one "I've given more to the performing arts than Bill Gates"
, in which I presented well-sourced figures to show that
- the arts, humanities and culture receive only 4% of the total philanthropy in the US,
- private cultural giving in Germany was substantial, of the same order as in the US and quite possibly higher
- that UK private giving to the cultural sector was about 56% of the level of the US (per capita, adjusted for GDP)
This post will look more at total funding levels, and draw some interesting conclusions about the place and relationship of private funding within those figures.
I will suggest that the conversation should not be so much about the relationship of public with private funding, as the relationship of funding with the level of culture of a country.
I'm extremely busy at the moment, so I am going to have to carry on posting the detailed evidence and argument in dribs and drabs, but this executive summary will show where I am heading:
- there is a certain threshold of culture availability required to embed cultural matters into a society. This threshold I will call the Cultural Poverty Line
- above the threshold, culture is in the fabric of society. Cultural literacy, attendance, and participation are all high
- below the threshold, culture is seen as elitist, subject to low attendances particularly from sections of the population.
- In countries above the Cultural Poverty Line, the state, corporations and individuals will value culture, and will invest in it. State and private funding levels will be high. A virtuous circle results, reinforcing the importance of culture, and leading to greater cultural literacy, attendance and participation.
- In countries below the Cultural Poverty Line, culture is more likely to be seen as a commodity, an optional extra, and funding for cultural matters will have to be defended. Significant numbers of citizens will be untouched by culture, and render the raising of money (both public and private) more difficult. A vicious circle means that fewer citizens engage with culture.
- the UK has a historically low level of funding of culture. Even the attempts to redress this under the last government only moved the UK up to rank 12th in Europe. (Yes, I realise that many monoglot English speakers will find this statement surprising. Evidences will follow)
- a two-tier, two-speed, Europe seems to be on the cards. Countries on the western, southern and eastern peripheries are facing savage cuts in their cultural funding. The countries which have traditionally always been the highest funders of culture, those in the centre and north of Europe, are maintaining or even increasing funding levels.
- Vicious and virtuous circles are stable and self-reinforcing patterns. Close to the Cultural Poverty Line, small changes can have big effects. Far from the threshold, it is far harder/ more expensive/ time consuming to change things
- Badly targeted, badly managed or overly large cuts could trigger lasting or even permanent damage to the cultural nature of the UK
How supple is private giving?
How elastic is the giving culture, and how rapidly could it be changed?
I asked Karen Stone about her experiences successfully running opera companies in the UK, the US, Germany and Austria. Here are her tips for arts companies in the UK:
- Most US companies reckon that c. 20% of funds raised are used to cover personnel expense.
- you require quite a lot of seed money to get started .. US wisdom has it that the first ask cannot be before the 3rd visit and that a minimum 2-year relationship is required before you can get a large donation
- Make sure your potential donors understand the not-for-profit sector: all donors, whether individual or corporate, look at your balance-sheet first of all, and I cannot tell you how often I have heard 'we do not subsidise a deficit...' quoted!
- Another problem I found was an increase in the amount of educational projects that were the preferred funding area (less elitist stigma), the only problem being that this also put an additional strain on basic personnel and is a drain on the artistic budgets...
(Karen made another implicit comment about the effects of working in a system dependent on philanthropy when she left the Dallas Opera after four years at the helm as General Director: "I've decided that I want to focus more on the art form and less on the fund-raising that's required" Dallas News: Dallas Opera chief leaving
How robust is private giving?
The Council of Europe hosted a two-day conference for senior cultural policy-makers
and researchers last week, looking at the current and future situation for the funding of culture. To allow participants to concentrate on solutions and strategies, rather than describing the current situation, a set of informative background papers were provided. The following statistics have been extracted from the paper "The Effects of the Economic Crisis on Culture"
. Text in double quotes below has been lifted verbatim from this paper.
The good news is that the nominal value of the contributions were (before the credit crunch) holding up.
"The really bad news is that the relative share of culture within total philanthropy in the USA has been going down at an alarming monotony":
| Culture share of private giving
| Culture share of foundation grants
| Culture share of total corporate funding
"These data sequences go back to the turn of millennium and do not yet reflect the effect of the credit crunch. Their gravity for culture can be assessed by comparing the $12.8 billion of private donations in 2008 to total (federal, state and municipal) public funding, which remained below $3B. Charities like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations no longer have divisions with 'art' in their names.
In America, it is the area of corporate giving where culture has suffered the greatest relative plummet between 2001-2004 (which the latest crisis has certainly not reversed).
We must remember though that in the USA corporate giving and business sponsorship are a tiny share (around 5%) of private support in general, and also of resources for culture in particular."
TO BE CONTINUED ...