Author: Dickson, Mike
Date published: February 1, 2010
Things are grim in Charity World as the decade starts. It's the NGO version of a perfect storm. The income of most charities is suffering from the recession; only a few sail on untroubled. Like the National Trust, which had an extremely successful 2009, partly because millions of our fellow countrymen stayed at home for their holidays.
If it's tough in Charity World, it's tougher still in Arts World. Arts and Business, a non-profit consultancy, reported a 7 per cent fall in private and corporate investment in the arts last year, predicting a continued reduction until 201 1. Chief executive Colin Tweedy has said: 'We would like to be optimistic, but predict that the worst is still to come, with 2010-1 1 being the low point' Any flavour of incoming government - and government is still the financial mainstay of the arts - is expected to slash funding for several years.
But there is good news. Excellent arts projects are still attracting private and corporate funding. The Almeida is a small but high-profile and thriving London theatre. Michael Attenborough, its charismatic artistic director, puts on brave, original theatre using some of the world's finest acting, writing, designing and directing talents - all of whom receive an equal (and incredibly low) weekly wage for the privilege.
Listening to him talk about what is almost 'his' theatre, and the importance of the arts in human Ufe, is enough to make anyone reach for their chequebook.
'When financial crises occur, the arts can so easily be shuffled to the margin; sacrificed in the cause of financial expethency. However, our psychological, spiritual and emotional Uves need every possible speck of nourishment, alongside more obvious physical and material needs. If a brutal choice between a kidney machine and a theatre becomes unavoidable, then the kidney machine naturally must take priority; but I would argue that in a truly civilised society we should do all we can to prevent such a choice ever becoming necessary.'
The Almeida costs £3.3 million a year to run. Its viability relies on finding £1.3 million on top of box office income of around £1 million and Arts Council funding - surely under pressure at the moment - of a further £1 million.
The theatre is a charity so, in common with others, is required to 'demonstrate public benefit'. For the Almeida this is an education and community programme that wouldn't happen without the financial support of individuals, trusts and companies. Having lost the support of Lehman Brothers after its bankruptcy, the Almeida has still provided 10,000 opportunities for young people and the local community to gain access to educational workshops. Pupils from local state schools get tickets for a fiver. Fortunately for Attenborough, Courts Bank has remained its principal sponsor for the past seven years.
And, in addition to the education programme, there's a series of special events to attract new supporters and engage with current ones. Next on the list is a one-off 'Shakespeare's Women' Gala on Sunday 14 March, directed by Attenborough and spearheaded by Juliet Stevenson and Sinéad Cusack.
At the other end of the scale is the Tate, with four galleries (Tate Modem and Tate Britain in London, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives), an annual turnover of £200 million, and anyone who is anyone on some form of advisory committee. The focus is on modern and contemporary art, and Tate exhibitions are always good, often brilliant. Tate Modern is the most visited modern art gallery in the world.
Sixty per cent of the Tate's income is self-generated. Significantly, this has increased over the past five years, due in no small part to great exhibitions and associated publicity, but also because an increasing number of people are getting involved. Success breeds success.
Tate Foundation's director of development, Rebecca Williams, remains positive about the current climate, but acknowledges it has been a challenging year.
'Individual donors are still being very generous. New patrons continue to join the Tate scheme,' she says. 'Tate members have proved that they are still keen to give to the gallery beyond their annual subscription to support acquisitions - coming together to help the Tate raise the funds required to save eight important sketches by William Blake for the nation.
'Corporate sponsors are also holding firm - our long-term sponsor Bloomberg has signed up for another three years, joining BP and Unilever who are committed through to 2012. Goldman Sachs, Finsbury and British Land have come together as a syndicate to sponsor the Henry Moore exhibition which opens in February at Tate Britain, and Bank of America, sponsor of Tate's major Bacon exhibition last year, is back in 2010 as sponsor of Gauguin. '
If there is a moral in all this, it is that people who care about the arts care as much about them as people who care about donkey sanctuaries, cancer cures and overseas aid. And that a crackingly good arts organisation, be it an art gallery or an exciting theatre, can enthuse supporters to do just that - support it. The arts world is much more vulnerable and at times less visible outside London. So as we go forward into 2010, spare a thought - and some cash - for the brilliant theatres, small but fine museums and galleries that our 'psychological, spiritual and emotional Uves' need around the country. Dig deep and support them.
I'll leave the final word to Michael Attenborough: 'The arts are what make us feel human. They distil and share the experience of being alive. They thrill, excite, stimulate and challenge us. They enable us to grow and expand, to understand ourselves and, crucially, they bring to neglected and impoverished areas of our society the opportunity for self-expression and a genuine feeling of self- worth.'
Why doesn't some generous, wealthy bod just take him out to lunch and give him £1 million?
Mike Dickson is a philanthropy adviser and the founder of the children's charity Whizz-Kidz