Monday, 5 July 2010

Sponsorship: a blessing or a curse?

Photo: Akira Suemori/AP

São João National Theatre missing 600 thousand euro to fullfil its programme was the title of an article in the newspaper Público on the 30th of June (read here in portuguese only). The article informed that the prestigious national theatre had lost one of its sponsors and that the director was confident that, even at a time of crisis, and given the theatre´s prestige and history, someone would show up willing to help.

It´s usually at a moment of crisis or cuts that we, cultural institutions and professionals of the sector, start talking about alternative funding sources and, more specifically, sponsorship or patronage. What should be a continuous and consistent work in fundraising, not associated to moments of crisis, becomes a cry for help, that make of us a poor relative, waiting for someone to feel sorry and save us.

I can´t imagine a company that would invest its money for feeling sorry, wanting to save someone from drowning. I don´t mean to question, of course, the prestige of São João Theatre or any other cultural institution. On the contrary, I believe that the prestige and the continuous and high quality work should make the news potential sponsors might read in the newspapers.

We are not going to find sponsors through the newspapers. This is exactly what Carlos Fragateiro did a few years ago, when he was the director of D.Maria II National Theatre (read article here in portuguese only), and, as one would expect, it didn´t result in anything. Nuno Carinhas, director of São João National Theatre, is now doing the same. We shouldn´t announce that we are looking for sponsorship because there was a cut; because we lost another funding source; because we are missing money in order to be able to fulfil our programme. A sponsorship is a partnership between equals, that benefits both sides. The objective of fundraising should be to do more and better, to go further, and not to solve financial problems. The projects proposed – either institutional or related to programming – should be strong, of quality, well structured, attractive, projects that certain companies, for reasons of either prestige or branding, would not want to miss the opportunity to become associated to.

All this reminds me of all the controversy regarding BP´s sponsorship to Tate Modern. A party to celebrate 20 years of this sponsorship caused a series of protests on behalf of many artists and has resulted in a heated exchange of opinions in the Guardian since the end of last month. All because of the accident, last April, on BP´s platform in the Gulf of Mexico that caused the greatest environmental disaster in the last years, ot ever.

Jonathan Jones, in his article
Tate is right to take BP´s money, was provocative. At a moment of big cuts, as the actual moment in the UK, “If they [museums] can get money from Satan himself, they should take it”, Jones said. As far as the BP sponsorship to Tate is concerned, he was questioning what was after all the benefit for BP for sponsoring the prestigious museum. “...I wasn't even aware of its Tate sponsorship – until now. If supporting Tate is meant to associate BP with cool art, it is a failure. I must have seen the BP logo a thousand times on press releases and it never lodged in my mind. I have never thought Tate=BP, let alone Tate=BP=oil is good.”

John Sauven answered Jones´s questions in his excellent article
BP arts sponsorship: can Tate afford it?. “Until the Gulf of Mexico disaster, BP's green sunflower was found only in carefully selected locations designed to give the company an air of clean, British authority: Covent Garden, the National Portrait awards, a new exhibition at the Tate. These are some of our best loved pastimes, and for BP this feelgood factor is simply priceless”.

This is the association companies are looking for and not to save us from our financial troubles. Sometimes things might not go as planned though. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and BP´s responsibilities put Tate in a difficult position. An institution that proclaims that it will not accept funds from a donor that is believed to have acted illegally in obtaining them or that aims to be a leader in response to climate change, has now some difficult decisions to make. Opinions are divided, as we can see in the article
Crude awakening: BP and the Tate, for which the Guardian interviewed various leading cultural figures. A very interesting reading.

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