TAITMAIL Trusting in a new foundation

Negotiations on saving our culture from apocalypse, behind closed doors rather than in the correspondence pages of the national press, have begun and are expected to take until the end of the month, at least in their initial stage. Not long to build a new horizon.

It seems that the central figure is going to be the publicly little-known but reputedly highly effective Neil Mendoza, the new Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal appointed by the culture secretary last week, and that appointment gives a clue as to the way in which the government expects the negotiations to go. He will, in the terms issued by DCMS, “initiate an ambitious philanthropic focus on arts and culture, and help ensure Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England and other important bodies work together with DCMS to develop and deliver support to the sector”. The image on his Twitter site has him at a black tie do looking a dead ringer for Daniel Craig as 007, but quite what Mendoza is licensed to do is unclear.

The crucial phrase here is “ambitious philanthropic focus”: centring on private giving and the resources of trusts and foundations. The three organisations mentioned are key spenders of lottery money and subsidy. No mention of local authorities, still the biggest subsidisers of the arts without any statutory requirement to do so but whose budgets are increasingly circumscribed, but that’s another story.

Mendoza describes himself as an entrepreneur, publisher and philanthropist in that order. He co-founded Forward Publishing which became a leading contract publisher of magazines and was sold to the giant WPP for an undisclosed sum in 2001. He was chairman of the Landmark Trust, the Prince’s Foundation (for children’s art), was on the board of the Almeida and the Shakespeare Schools Foundation, and an ex-judge of the Olivier Awards. He currently chairs the Illuminated River Foundation (the public art project to light up all 14 Thames bridges), is vice-chair of Soho Theatre, a Historic England commissioner and a non-executive board member at DCMS. In 2017 he published his review of English museums for DCMS. So he has been in the front-line of the scramble to find alternative sources of funding for arts and heritage organisations since subsidy began to melt again in 2011. At 61, he is now provost of Oriel College, Oxford, where he was educated.

In taking this route the government will have been encouraged by the Arts Council’s report of ten months ago, Private Investment Culture Survey, which painted a rosy picture of arts support from the private sector in which, while business sponsorship was not moving much, individual giving and charitable trusts were on the rise. It found that in 2017/18 private investment in the arts and culture was worth £545m, 15% of total income compared with 33% from public funding and 52% earned income. Of that private investment 18% came from business sponsorship, 43% from individual giving and 38% from trusts and foundations, and the latter were on the increase at a rate of 21% for one art form (dance).

In 2014/15 trusts and foundations contributed 29% to the private investment block compared to 51% from individual giving and 20% from business; in 2017-18 that ratio had changed to 38% - 43% - 18%, and giving to the arts by trusts and foundations rose by 11% between 2016 and 2018, twice as fast as individual giving. You see the trend that caught DCMS’s eye. The pre-Covid ACE report foresees growth to 2022 with respondents seeing trusts and foundations as the most promising, against an expectation of a drop in subsidy and lottery funding.

Acccording to the Charities Aid Foundation there are more than 10,000 trusts and foundations nationwide, distributing more than £2bn in grants every year, a small but significant proportion of which comes to the arts. A lot of what they do is, as one foundation director described it to me, “under the bonnet work” – specific rescue or development missions out of the public eye which could be kick-start, revenue, capital, project or long-term commitment funding. It is a multi-coloured world of family trusts, corporate trusts (income coming from company profits), private trusts (raised mostly from private investment), livery company funds, public appeal trusts, community foundations (there are 46 across the UK creating local cultural endowments worth in 2015 £500m) and, of course, the declining National Lottery.

Trusts and foundations have become a powerful and intelligent force in the engineering that keeps the arts and culture machinery turning, who have formed themselves into a coalition to plan for the future together and whose input at the last ACE account for 2017/18 was £209m. Though, strangely, they are not represented on the DCMS task force (neither, inexplicably, are local authorities), trusts and foundations are going to be essential in the negotiations, and this is the point at which the warning finger goes up.

One of the richest and most generous is the Paul Hamlyn Foundation whose CEO is Moira Sinclair. “Trusts and foundations understand they may have an important role to play in the recovery of the sector” she says “but their collective spend is nowhere near enough to offer a meaningful solution to this emergency. A sizeable rescue package from government will be essential to underpin the arts infrastructure and ecology, which means touring companies, community arts organisations and artist development programmes as well as buildings. Only then can we play a part in making sure all the progress that’s been made in reaching local communities, in developing new stories and voices and in opening up arts and culture for all is sustained". 

In fact trusts and foundations have already been in discussion with DCMS and what they want to see is a whole new and better funding structure with subsidy in a reaffirmed central place, a post-Covid settlement that ties funding for the arts infrastructure to a commitment for local support, a commitment to create jobs for artists and an agreement to make a positive contribution to the climate emergency agenda which, believe it or not in the present situation, is increasingly plangent for people in the arts.

A substantial package from the government will be needed to recreate that infrastructure, and only with that done should trusts and foundations, along with individual giving, come in to do the things that subsidy traditionally doesn’t, such as creating education departments and community engagement programmes. And, the thing that is exciting them most, helping to build on the new practices and connective platforms that have developed so fast during the Covid lockdown.

But, says another trust director bluntly, trusts and foundations can only be a part of the formula that Mendoza and DCMS come up with: “If they think we are the solution, they're barking up the wrong tree…”

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