Why funding for arts projects is not fit for purpose - Marine Tanguy

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Who funds you? It’s a familiar question to those who follow politics, but one that is far more pertinent to the art world right now.

Various leading cultural institutions are coming under increasing pressure to end their ties with oil giant BP, following objections from climate emergency protesters.

How should the arts be funded?

How should the arts be funded?

The National Galleries of Scotland has ended links with BP, which is now also considering ending its funding of leading cultural institutions including the Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery.

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BP’s philanthropic tentacles extend across the UK: Hull’s City of Culture campaign, which delivered 365 days of transformative culture through a range of events and projects, had the company as a major corporate partner.

And BP is not alone in facing pressure. Most recently, MIT University, in America, has been roundly criticised for accepting more than $7.5m in donations from Jeffrey Epstein to fund its media school.

Last year, the Sackler family, who have donated more than £60m to UK institutions over the past decade, withdrew funding from several organisations after the Tate declined a $1.3m donation from the Sackler Trust.

That decision was brought about after the Sackler family were publicly criticised by artists involved in a Sackler-sponsored Tate exhibition for their alleged links to the US opioid crisis.

Morally, it might seem a straightforward decision to decline funding of disreputable origins, but some industries do not have the luxury of choosing where their support comes from.

This dilemma is pronounced for artistic institutions, with one-third of funding in the arts associated with industry.

Historically, the arts have relied on patronage from wealthy families and large corporate donations.

Clearly there is a place for philanthropy, but this mentality has become so engrained within the arts world that it has failed to evolve, failed to open different streams of revenue, and finds itself too much at the mercy of money from questionable sources.

This has also created a complex class problem in the art world.

Even when money flows in the higher echelons of art, it rarely trickles down to those in entry level jobs or trying to break into a market that has too long been regarded as elitist and exclusive.

Invariably, when funding is pulled, it is those who are the most vulnerable, the artists and young professionals, who ultimately suffer.

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This raises an interesting question on what is more immoral, to accept money of dubious origins, or to reject it and put at risk jobs of people who do not have the family money to otherwise support themselves and their practice?

Ninety per cent of artists are asked to work for free in their first year.

Those within the remaining ten per cent aren’t even the lucky ones, with an average first-year salary of £5,000, equating to less than one-third of minimum wage in Europe.

Even as you move on in your career in the arts, much of the work is freelance and project based, meaning you can be perpetually at risk of being out of work the next day.

The £7.5m that BP pumps into artistic institutions is no small fee, it could make a huge difference for thousands of artists, but do we want to accept that money?

The industry is in desperate need of an attitudinal shift.

The current model of funding is not fit for purpose, and the challenge is to evolve beyond philanthropy and become commercially viable.

I founded my own business, MTArt Agency, five years ago to try to bolster this kind of change. Our business model is based on partnering artists with like-minded businesses, brands and government bodies.

This allows artists to retain the integrity of their practice, but also places more emphasis on forging a consistently upward commercial trajectory.

For artists from poorer backgrounds this is incredibly important.

To create real change, the art and business worlds must become more aligned. All the while that we see art as a pleasant extra or a charitable endeavour, we will be stuck in this cycle.

I do think that government bodies have an interesting role to play here too.

As urban living spaces become more crowded, people will want more ownership of their public spaces, and public art will become more popular and valued. It might be that a voluntary community tax is a step we could take.

If you could pay £10 towards selecting a piece of public art in your local community, is it something you would do?

Initiatives such as the City of Culture campaign have fantastic value to a community.

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Culture and art are a way of bringing people together, sparking conversation, encouraging creativity and providing inspiration.

This is something that the UK should work to foster, but in order to do so we must find a way to create a more sustainable model. People will criticise BP because it is easy, but looking inwards to find the solutions among real change is much more difficult.

Marine Tanguy is chief executive of artist talent agency, MTArt Agency.