A great deal of water has flowed under the bridge, not least for Jeremy Hunt, since last December’s pre-announcement of a new Arts Council scheme to encourage more philanthropy in the arts. While other aspects of the Culture Secretary brief dominated the news, the Catalyst Arts Fund was launched by ACE at the end of June. The fund will put up £30m of lottery funding to match-fund arts organisations, if they can find private contributions. Applicants will be given a year to prepare before they have to come up with the money.
It is hard to overstate how much of a shot in the dark this approach represents. It stems from the Government’s conviction that the arts can and should get by on less central funding and more private funding. Reducing central funding is easily achieved, replacing it from generous donors rather less so. As we’ve blogged before, the evidence that a philanthropic approach will work is not promising. Experience from the US suggests, not surprisingly, that the big organisations are much better equipped to raise private money than the small.
Aspects of the Catalyst Arts Fund take an investment approach, with £3m available for practical advice and sharing experiences from the Fund with the sector. £7m also available through small grants to help inexperienced organisations build their fundraising, philanthropy-seeking capacity. The size of these grants – £15-25k – seems more suited to one-off advice or research than ‘building capacity’, and this gets to the root of the problem. Some organisations are much better placed to go down the philanthropy route than others: those with larger budgets, more staff, a higher profile, long-term relationships with commercial sponsors, metropolitan locations, more mainstream outputs, etc.
Is there really a hidden funding pot, available for the asking, out to fund the minority art forms and small organisations previously avoided by sponsors? ACE match-funding may incentivise arts organisations, but what will incentivise philanthropists to radically change their behaviour by backing the arts as never before?
If the Government wanted to encourage a predictable, risk-averse arts scene that concentrates only on the audiences with money to spend who are easiest to reach, it couldn’t have planned it better.