Perhaps the most exciting aspect of my work at the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland is the teaching work we do abroad. The arts environment is deeply challenging here in the United States, but it is more so in other countries where government funding is falling, sometimes precipitously. While we are now, unfortunately, used to hearing of American arts organizations that are closing doors, we are becoming equally accustomed to hearing of European arts institutions that are no longer functioning. No less an institution than the Concertgebouw suggested that it might be bankrupt in the near future.
This means that teaching abroad about building a private philanthropic base is increasingly important. And the demand for new ideas is not limited to the capitals of culture. The DeVos Institute now teaches arts management in cities across the world. While we teach a complete curriculum including artistic planning, marketing, board development, the use of technology and strategic planning, the primary interest of most participants is, of course, how to build a private donor base.
It is important to note that the impetus for these training programs comes from the Ministries of Culture in these countries; they realize their governments can no longer meet the needs of the diverse set of arts institutions in their countries and want to encourage alternative sources of funding.
But any Ministry that suggests that private funding should be encouraged is also suspect; many arts managers fear that the more successful they become at raising funds from private donors, the more their governments will feel free to continue to cut arts subsidies.
It is heartening to note that this has not been the case in England, where serious private fundraising began 20 years ago. While subsidies are being cut in England, there is no evidence to suggest these cuts are larger than they might have been had private donations not been growing. In fact, cuts in England are relatively restrained compared to other countries including Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.
It is also a cause of suspicion when an American arts management institute is brought in to teach fundraising. The perception abroad is that it is easy to raise money in the United States; and, indeed, our tax incentives, and, especially, our culture of philanthropy, do make it substantially easier to raise money here than elsewhere.
But people are people, and I have found that creating exciting art, marketing it well, embracing those who care about our work and making it fun to be a donor work in Johannesburg, Dublin and Mexico City in the same way they do in New York City, Boston or Chicago.
I am confident that the arts managers and board members we are teaching will come to accept that they, too, can build a philanthropic base that supports their institutions for years to come. And that our students will become role models who influence others in their communities that private support can form a significant complement to government funding.