Notes from a Symposium on Arts Funding

/ by Cosima Archer

At Academiegebouw in Utrecht researchers, donors, founders and art collectors from different countries gathered together in order to discuss the topics of how to navigate the art world after severe budget cuts by governments. Sadly, the public subsidy system has not encouraged arts institutions to build up reserves. 

“The Day of Arts Philanthropy” was a transnational symposium with a high degree of complexity. Musée du Louvre, the Dutch National Opera Ballet, and academic researchers from three nations sought to analyze philanthropy as a part of civil society. 

“New circumstances,” as philanthropy consultant Dr. Renée Steenbergen affirms, “require new insights into developing long-term relationships with people, with donors. If the state does not support, art becomes elitist and supplementary.” But art is a collective good! Therefore, the symposium focused on giving behavioral motivations to donors and potential donors, as a way to cope with this new reality.

Motivation and giving behavior of private donors to the arts in Europe is a very serious study, and must be expanded, in order to develop effective fundraising strategies based on relationship management, and to avoid an instrumentalization of private donations.

Anglo-Saxon trusts counterbalance government arts policy and developed parallel art strategies.  The United Kingdom is number one in Europe, with 67%-69% funding from trusts, while the Netherlands follows closely with 66%, according to the World Giving Index 2016. France is a country which still has state museums. Philanthropy is indeed a part of civil society. But we face a value crisis.

Nevertheless, the younger European donor is here. And spite the fact that the Louvre has difficulty in motivating younger donors (younger meaning under 50 years old), the club FOAM in Amsterdam is very active, because younger donors want to learn. 

Ina Giscard d´Estaing, head of fundraising at the Louvre, emphasizes that the Musée du Louvre is an international platform. It is also present in social projects. After budget cuts, year after year, in France, the Louvre thought deeply to find more ways of private funding. Les Amis du Louvre, the Corporate Donor Circle, The International Friends of Louvre are all philanthropic groups who meet to support the museum and engage in social activities. The endowment is very important. Education is a one of the key elements in making a long-term strategy that will rally citizens. 

The Direction des Relations Extérieures du Louvre put up for discussion several questions. In what way can an educational approach toward the younger generations be effective, in order to encourage the culture of giving? Tax breaks or creating actions through social media are key to convincing people and creating long-term partnerships.

There is a specific psychology to philanthropy. Giving is rewarded socially. But there is also a psychological reward, an affirmation of self-image. A “warm glow” or the “joy of giving effect,” as neurological studies demonstrates. 

Values, prosocial values. This empathic concern and awareness of social responsibility are very important for fundraising. People want to change the world, in line with their own values. If you can connect to people´s values, then you can create a committed donor.
"It is nice to know all the ins and outs from the other side," said Elise Wessels, an international donor and founder of a private museum, upon hearing the viewpoints of the museum fund-raising departments. She remembered her beginning, as a donor for the Bayreuth Festival. Before the recession, the act of giving was very different. There was an Olympic distance between wealthy donors and “regular” people. Today, this distance is narrowed. Building up a long-lasting relationship between donors and people, donors and institutions, "is a very important part of why you donate." 

She pointed out that "I do it of my own free will." So she does not need to be convinced. She started giving because she wanted to be involved in the project. "When you give, you get a lot of back," she said. 

The presentation by Cathy Pharaoh, from the United Kingdom, focused on the donor´s engagement and the fundraising structure. She drew our attention to the Family Foundation. The results of the research are very positive. Many younger donors are coming to art. 

Giving may come from individuals or trusts. The present generation is much more socially and environmentally concerned, because they have begun to see some of the systemic faults in capitalism. And because the economic environment has become so much harsher. 

The young today can be hard-headed and ambitious. Young donors’ networks were created within companies. But the most important first step is to find the roots of engagement. Who are the key influencers for the core of network members? Donors are not isolated individuals, and the network is of crucial importance. 

Stephanie van Rappard, founder of the Young Patrons Circle Art at the Dutch National Opera and Ballet, is a good example of a young donor´s engagement. She reflected on how people influence each other. They look at others in the group. They are proud to be young patrons, creating a sort of positive group-think. In fact, she explained that a lot of members have never been to the Opera before. They are in it for the social aspect of giving.

Cosima Archer

studies Visual Culture, Melancholy, and Vanitas. She is an art historian, art critic, writer and translator.