At the invitation of England's Minister of Culture, Ed Vaizey, I recently visited that country for a teaching tour of six cities. As part of its austerity measures, the English government has recently had to cut its funding to the arts very substantially; most organizations have seen their subsidies reduced and others have had their grants eliminated altogether. Not surprisingly, there is a great deal of fear in the arts community.
As a remedial measure, I was asked to give fundraising workshops to help small- and mid-sized arts organizations build their capacity for raising funds from the private sector to replace lost government funding.
I led half-day seminars in Newcastle/Gateshead, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol. London was purposefully left off the list; fundraising has developed substantially in the capital city, especially among the largest organizations, but the regions have lagged behind.
It was fascinating to spend over a week in a country in which I lived a decade ago.
Things have changed.
When I was running the Royal Opera House (1998-2000) private fundraising was considered distasteful, at best. I was often referred to as 'Michael Kaiser the crass American' in the press since I was an aggressive fundraiser on behalf of the Opera House, which was suffering from a $30 million deficit (and desperately needed every penny I raised).
Now fundraising is considered a vital skill by most organizations. The English reticence to talk about money, let alone ask for it, is beginning to evaporate. Almost 600 people attended my sessions, many with full-time fundraising jobs. There is a great deal of sophisticated knowledge about development although it is still considered a bit mysterious by some.
And while corporations were the major source of grants a decade ago, government studies now suggest that over 50 percent of arts contributions now come from individuals.
This is a healthy trend. Smaller organizations, especially those outside of London, have a harder time finding corporate gifts since they cannot provide the visibility required by most corporate donors. There is also a far greater future in cultivating individuals; while the number of corporations funding the arts in any city is modest, the number of individuals who could support the arts is virtually limitless if they were engaged in the work of an arts organization, large or small.
The government, under the stellar leadership team of Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, and Minister Vaizey, is not simply letting arts organizations fend for themselves. It is working hard to encourage philanthropy with a package of tax incentives, matching grants and donor and arts manager education programming. The details of a new £80 million program to increase philanthropy and, therefore, stability will be announced shortly.
Times are challenging for the arts in England but coordinated efforts are being made to build a better future.
And all the many other countries hoping to build a larger base of private support for the arts can take heart that one nation, at least, is proving it can be done.