Monday, 25 October 2010

Logos size XXL

In the previous post I discussed the inclusion of the logos of sponsors and supporters in promotional materials. Something that is asked and given in return without giving it any special thought and which usually results in a footer full of tiny logos unable to serve the interests of those involved, namely the visibility they seek among consumers.

This time the issue is exactly the opposite. In the beginning of the month, The Art Newspaper published an article called
Ads of Sighs, informing of a protest of Venice in Peril, The British Committee for the Preservation of Venice, against the huge billboards covering many monuments and other public buildings in that city. The people undersigning the protest, which may be read here and is directed to the Italian Minister of Culture, are almost all directors of large international museums. Not only do they raise the issue of aesthetics, but also those of ethics and legality.

We read in the article of The Art Newspaper that, in accordance with the 1924 Convention between the Italian state and the city council, public buildings are “to be shown without objects that in any way might damage its beauty and majesty, mask its virtues, paintings and other characteristics of its history and art”. In some cases, it may be allowed to affix ads in heritage listed buildings as long as they “do not damage the appearance, decorum and public enjoyment of the said building or area”.

Images taken from the blog Museum Strategy

The local authorities complain for the lack of funding and stand by their decision, claiming that without the support of the large brands it wouldn´t be possible to undertake the conservation and restoration of buildings and monuments. In an article in the Guardian we read that a spokesman for the mayor said that “Venice, which is obliged to maintain these precious monuments, is forced to adopt this system”.

What is intriguing is that the sums made available by the sponsors / advertisers are relatively low. We read in the article of The Art Newspaper that they pay €40,000 a month (less than the price of two ads in a daily newspaper) for three years. And even though, it hasn´t been possible yet to raise the whole sum of €2,8 million necessary for the conservation of the buildings.

So, is Venice really obliged to allow for these ads in return? And is the final result the one the brands involved are wishing for? The controversy has intensified since it has been authorized to lit the ads by night.

Last year, and regarding the Sisley ad covering the Bridge of Sighs and the Palazzo Ducale, the
Museum Strategy blog published a post entitled Sponsorship debate: Venice´s “The Bridge of Sisleyand launched a survey among its readers: Is the Sisley advertising campaign in Venice: a) an unwanted eyesore which is ruining the city’s cultural beauty; or b) a clever sponsorship project which can facilitate much-needed renovations? More than a year later, 58,8% of the people who took part in the survey have given the campaign a negative mark, choosing a). In that same post we can read some of the opinions expressed on online forms, as well as comments to the post. Although some admit that the state of the buildings and monuments is equally heart-breaking, the big majority express feelings of distaste and irritation towards the city authorities and the brands alike. More than once we read statements like “I´ll never buy from them again”.

Let´s imagine that, instead of the huge ads, they had printed an image of the buildings under restoration. And that in a corner they had placed, discreet but visible and legible, the logo of the brand that is funding the works. Let´s imagine they had printed that same logo on the entrance tickets. The same with the catalogues, guidebooks, leaflets and, why not, exhibit labels. Let´s imagine space had been given to the sponsor for creating special events for its customers. Let´s imagine that during the press conference the sponsor had been seated next to the municipal authorities and the monument director, and that they had publicly thanked him for his support. Would it have been acceptable to give these things in return, guaranteeing visibility among the consumers for the brand´s involvement in the conservation and restoration of the building and for the expression of gratitude on behalf of those responsible for it? Would the objectives of both parties have been reached?

Sponsorship is not the necessity to advertise a specific product. It´s the wish to communicate to consumers the adoption of certain principles, to demonstrate social responsibility. The way Sisley, Coca-Cola and now Bulgari are shouting their involvement in the preservation of Venice monuments (the way other brands have done it in other cities) might become a boomerang. As for those responsible for the monuments, they needn´t have 'prostituted' in such a way, they should rather have looked for other ways of expressing their gratitude. They exist.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Let´s get rid of the logo dictatorship

The inclusion of the sponsor´s logo in all promotional materials is what cultural institutions usually give in return when looking for support for the production and promotion of their projects. The inclusion of their logo in all promotional materials is what institutions interested in sponsoring a cultural project usually expect in return. The cultural institution aims to give recognition to the importance of the sponsorship. The sponsoring institution aims to guarantee visibility for its brand among consumers.

The logo is a brand´s visual extension. A brand represents and identity, it aims to transmit a set of values. Organizations interested in sponsoring our projects are not aiming to take on the role of a charity. They are not supporting us because they feel sorry for us for not having enough money. They are doing it because the association to a specific event reinforces the value of their brand in the eyes of the consumers.

Many cultural projects rely on sponsorship and different kinds of support, both for production and promotion. Rarely, nevertheless, is this support hierarchized in terms of its ‘value’, monetary or other (but which should be somehow quantified). Thus, instead of this hierachization, that would aim to give in return something proportional to the ‘value’ of each partner´s contribution, what we usually see is an egalitarian treatment, limited to the inclusion of the partners´ logo in all promotional materials. Thus, radio station X, which supports the promotion of a cultural event at 100% (producing and transmitting a publicity spot, interviewing those involved and making other references), receives in return the same thing radio station Y gets for offering a substantial discount for a publicity campaign, but getting, nevertheless, paid for it. To give another example, company of transport X, that supports producing and putting up in its vehicles / carriages / boats posters of the event gets in return the same as transport company Y, that puts up posters produced by the promoter of the event, many times in smaller quantities. Why would then the Xs be interested in continuing to fully support if they would be able to get in return the same with a smaller contribution, similar to the one of the Ys? Aren´t cultural institutions losing in terms of negotiation when they treat al partners equally?

The result of these undifferentiated negotiations is normally a forest of logos in the footer of promotional materials, which leaves both sides very satisfied: the cultural institution because it shows its appreciation to its partner; the sponsor because its brand becomes associated to an event it considers to be of quality. Let´s see some examples of this in the ads of this weekend´s newspapares:

Let´s put ourselves for a while in the consumers´ shoes. After all, we are all consumers. Do we ever really notice the tiny icons accumulated in the footers of posters, newspaper ads and flyers (unless, of course, we are ourselves looking for partners for a specific event, so we take out the magnifying glass and try to identify possible partners in the materials of the others)? Isn´t it true that our eyes simply pass over all this? Is a cultural institution being honest with its partners when it´s promising them visibility and recognition in this way? Are sponsoring institutions being realistic when they are aiming at all costs for the inclusion of their logo in promotional materials as a means of reinforcing their brand´s value in the eyes of the consumers? I would particularly like to draw your attention to some logos in these ads that are not known to the general public. Are they really creating awareness among the consumers in this way? Does anyone know who they are and what they represent?

In my opinion, it only makes sense to include logos in promotional materials when there are up to three important sponsors, to whom visibility can be really guaranteed and which will be able to reinforce their brand´s value by being associated to a specific event. Here´s a good example:

Another way of managing the situation when there are many supporting institutions, which is still very little used, is, instead of including the logo, to make a written reference to the supporting organizations. Our consumers´ eyes pass over the tiny icons, but we still have the tendency to insist on reading. Here´s an example that worked with me, although I might be considered subjective here:

(Unfortunately, the image cannot be sufficiently enlarged in order for the contents to become legible. I am happy to send the document by email to anyone interested.)

The aim of this post is to draw attention to a practice that is being perpetuated without being really evaluated, when, in my opinion, it does not serve the partners´ true objectives. One fundamental issue remains open: so what can we give in return to the institutions whose support, larger or smaller, is fundamental for our projects? This issue will be discussed in another post.

Suggested reading on branding:
Klein, N. (2010). No logo. Fourth Estate (10th Anniversary Edition)
Olins, W. (2007). On brand. Thames and Hudson
Wheeler, A. (2006). Designing brand identity. John Wiley & Sons

Monday, 11 October 2010

Freedom of speech

On the 4th of October I had the opportunity to attend the symposium Identity, Fredom and Violence, that brought together at the municipal library of Santa Maria da Feira Iranian lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, and Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, author of the Mohammed cartoon that caused a huge wave of violence in 2006.

(Photo: NFactos - Expresso newspaper)
I confess that my expectations were high. Freedom of speech (and its limitations) is something I think about frequently, without being able to reach definite conclusions, that may be applied to every case. It seems that when we discuss this issue each case is a case. Thus, I was very curious to see what direction would be given to this debate between an artist that ‘dared’ to represent the Prophet Mohammed and a muslim and human rights advocate.

My expectations were not fulfilled. Shirin Ebadi and Kurt Westergaard gave two parallel speeches. And both the convenor, journalist Carlos Magno, and the audience (including some journalists) did not notice (or did not understand) a statement by Shirin Ebadi that could have created a touching point between the two presentations and resulted in an interesting debate. Shirin Ebadi clearly said: “The Convention on Human Rights guarantees freedom of speech for everyone, but there are exceptions: when it refers to racist propaganda, hatred or incentive to war. Thus, a cartoon representing Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in the place of the turban constitutes a human rights violation. The same with the reaction of part of the muslim world towards the cartoon.” This statement was somehow ‘ignored’. Both Carlos Magno and Kurt Westergaard referred to the clash of civilizations, the conflict between christianism and islam, the need to defend our way of living (the european).

Since then, I´ve been thinking that, instead of taking advantage of incidents like the one of the cartoon in order to take a step further towards meeting the ‘other’, we continue to opt for simplistic and convenient interpretations and to talk about the clash between cultures. Am I, a European and a Christian, in conflict with Shirin Ebadi, Iranian and muslim? Isn´t she fighting for freedom of speech much more than I am? Isn´t this a value we share, one that defines and unites us?

I read again excerpts from a book I had read last year and enjoyed a lot, because I thought it was enlightening and balanced. It´s called
The Fear of the Barbarians: beyond the clash of civilizations and it was written by Tzvetan Todorov, a Bulgarian philosopher living in Paris. The chapters of the book are: Barbarism and civilization; Collective identities; The war of the worlds; Steering between the reefs (here he analyzes events such as the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the publication of the Mohammed cartoons by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten or Pope Benedict´s speech at Ratisbon University); European Identity.

So, Todorov says in his first chapter: “A civilized person is one who is able, at all times and in all places, to recognize the humanity of others fully. So two stages have to be crossed before anyone can become civilized: in the first stage, you discover that others live in a way different from you; in the second, you agree to see them as bearers of the same humanity as yourself.” And he continues: “Getting those with whom you live to understand a foreign identity, whether individual or collective, is an act of civilization, since in his way you are enlarging the circle of humanity; thus scholars, philosophers and artists all contribute to driving back barbarity.”

Knowing the ‘other’ means at the same time respecting him. And to respect is to exercise self-regulation. It doesn´t mean denying our rights (such as freedom of speech), but learning how to exercise them responsibly. “Responsibility limits freedom”, says Todorov. Between having and exercising a right there is a long way, in which one must consider possible consequences within a certain context.

The cartoons published by the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 had been commissioned by culture editor Flemming Rose, a kind of a manifesto against self-censorship caused by fear of the Muslims. They came at a time where xenophobic, and especially anti-muslim, feelings were becoming more and more obvious in Danish society. Four years earlier, parliamentary elections had led to a coalition supported by the Danish People´s Party, which proclaimed “Denmark to the Danes”, “Islam is a carcinoma, a terrorist organization”, “There´s only one culture, ours”. Thus, we have on the one side the right of a cartoonist to provoke through his art (what is the art of the cartoon if not criticism through provocation?) and, on the other the responsibility the exercise of the right of freedom of speech brings to the editor of big newspaper within a certain context.

Does this discussion demonstrate a clash between cultures? Could we ever say that among Europeans and/or Christians there are no acts of barbarism and among Asians (in this case) and/or Muslims acts of civilization? Wouldn´t it be, thus, more correct, considering Todorov´s definition, to talk about a clash between civilized and less civilized people, regardless of their nationality or religion?

By way of epilogue: I read on the internet that in February 2006 that same culture editor, Flemming Rose, told CNN that his newspaper was going to publish satirical cartoons with reference to the Holocaust that were going to be published by an iranian newspaper. Jyllands-Posten was trying to get in touch with that newspaper so that the publication would take place simultaneously. Later that day, the editor-in-chief of the danish newspaper informed that under no circumstances would Jyllands-Posten publish the Holocaust cartoons and the following day he announced that Flemming Rose was taking an indefinite leave.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Who ‘deserves’ to be funded? (II) Some conclusions

The relationship of many people with the cultural sector, perhaps of the majority, is the one described by John Holden, in page 32 of his text Capturing Cultural Value, as 'non-use values'. That is, they appreciate the fact that it exists (existence value), regardless of using it or not; they keep open the possibility of using it in the future, although they do not use it in the present (option value); they think it is important to bequeath something to future generations (bequest value).

Thus, while I was reading a series of
texts on the value of culture and its funding, I kept asking myself: does it make sense to continue focusing the debate on how to prove the value of culture? Is this what we need to convince people – audiences and non-audiences, politicians, sponsors-, of the ‘value of culture’? Who´s questioning it?

Culture has an intrinsic value, largely intangible, unmeasurable. Culture touches us, marvels us, make us grow as people, help us become more tolerant and demanding, less ignorant and arrogant. It makes us think about ourselves and the world. Each one of us lives this relationship in a very personal way; and each one of us can speak for themselves. These testimonies, many times recorded, are not exactly a ‘proof’, but they help us understand, and show others, how the cultural offer is received, understood and felt.

When discussing cultural funding, rarely do we use this kind of arguments. Because they are not easy to ‘prove’ and because they do not seem to be sufficient. They are not the expected indicators. In the meantime, in our ‘apology’ we often refer to the results of culture´s ‘collateral effects’, that is the ones related to economy, urban regeneration, social and health problems, etc. These exist and have already been proved in various reports.

It seems to me, though, that we shouldn´t be evaluating culture in general, and the arts in particular, based on these indicators. Monitoring these results is the job of the agents who represent each one of those sectors, which interact with the cultural sector because they find the interaction to be beneficial. I think that the cultural sector should concentrate on proving that it aims and manages to create bridges with the other sectors, so that its offer can be more promoted, more accessible and more ‘used’, resulting in more and more people getting in touch with its intrinsic value – the one that is hard to prove and measure, but which each person feels and understands, in his/her own way, when experiencing it. In my opinion, it is in these terms that the value of the cultural sector should be debated and evaluated. And it is also based on these terms that funding criteria should be established.

When considering the distribution of money, it seems to me that, generally speaking, we could identify three types of beneficiaries: artists who work individually, who produce; artists with a supporting structure; cultural institutions.

The job of the artists is to create; to create art of excellence. And the State should guarantee the conditions for that to happen. Artists do not create because it is beneficial for the society. They create because this is their way of breathing, of communicating. It is not up to them to prove that their art helps to solve health or social or other problems. The decision to fund them should be based on the quality of their work. Nevertheless, it seems legitimate to me to expect that an artist financed by the State would be open for collaborating with the mediators (education, outreach, communications staff), who aim to open the way for the public to come to the encounter with his/her art. Audiences, politicians, sponsors find it difficult to attribute value to something they don´t know it exists or something that looks strange to them, incomprehensible, and, thus, apparently useless and at times frightening.

In this context, we should pay particular attention to the fear and discomfort the words ‘contemporary art’ exercise on people. Noone protests against the funding of museums, companies with classical repertories, artists whose work does not defy the established canons… These are proposals the importance of which the general public accepts, even if they never use them. On the other hand, people´s relationship with experimental contemporary art, the art that aims to question the canons, to create new ways of looking at ourselves and the world, is less peaceful. Why? Because the majority of the people do not possess the necessary tools in order to be able to attribute value and importance to it. Apart from the obligation to guarantee the conditions so that this art cab happen, there is another obligation: to ‘educate’ the public so that it can learn to appreciate it (and then accept it or discard it), to give them the necessary tools in order to discover and explore it. And this cannot happen without the artist´s collaboration.

In what concerns the structures supporting an artist or the companies or cultural institutions in general (museums, galleries, cultural centres, performance halls), I am not at all uncomfortable with the idea of setting objectives (some common to all and some specific, decided by the funder and the cultural organization, according to its mission – see
post on the establishment of objectives in the funding agreements between british museums and the government). It seems legitimate to me that the decision to fund gives priority to those interested in pursuing those objectives. If we value the establishment of education departments or the establishment of a relationship with under-represented target-audiences, should priority be given to those who aim to follow that direction? If we value the elimination of physical barriers, so that disabled citizens may enjoy the cultural offer, wouldn´t it be legitimate to expect that publicly funded institutions provide access to them? Just to give two examples.

I believe that development can only be achieved with the establishment of concrete and measurable objectives, in the medium and long term. This is how we can manage to eliminate, little by little, the barriers of access to culture - mental, physical and financial. This is not about the value of culture, it is about access to it.

These and other issued will be discussed on the 6th of October in a debate that aims to provoke and is entitled Just what are the arts good for?”, organized by the Institute of Ideas in partnership with Culturgest.

Note on the 6th of October:
Being this a very relevant issue for the cultural sector, it is being discussed in various forums in many countries. Artsblog published today the post Proving what we know is true, that informs us of a study that is going to be undertaken by Theatre Bay Area with the objective to create a service that will allow them to quantify the intrinsic impact of their work. More information on this here.

Finally, it´s worth reading an article by Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate and one of the most influential people in the british cultural sector, published in the Guardian on the 5th of October and entitled A blitzkrieg on the arts. Here´s an excerpt that I consider fundamental should we really wish to change the terms of the debate: "With the ruthlessness of a blitzkrieg the coalition is threatening the stability of an entire system for cultural provision that has been built up by successive Conservative and Labour governments: a mixed economy of public and private support that has made Britain a civilised place to live, where all have an opportunity to enjoy the arts or celebrate our heritage, and have been doing so in increasing numbers."