Creating new partnerships

Arts organisations rely on support from the business community to operate in WA. Instead of just asking for donations, arts organisations and businesses are looking for partnerships that provide sound business outcomes for both parties, as Catie Low reports.

A SHRINKING public purse has forced local arts organisations to look to the business community for support. And, armed with a sound business approach to sponsorship, many arts organisations have made a success of the transition from government funding to private enterprise partnerships.

In spite of a trend towards diversification of sponsorship spending across a number of sectors, such as sport, charity and education, corporate sponsorship of the arts in WA has increased by an impressive 312 per cent since 1997.

Australia wide, the level of corporate sponsorship of the arts in this State represents 8 per cent of the national total, ahead of both South Australia and Queensland.

The State Arts Sponsorship Scheme Awards, established in 1993, are credited with supporting and nurturing this growth.

This year nominations for the awards have increased by 33 per cent, which represents support worth more than $5.3 million.

Following research undertaken by the Department of Culture and the Arts, four new awards have been introduced to capture innovative sponsorship arrangements supported by small and medium-sized businesses.

The Australian Business Arts Foundation has also worked hard to develop stronger partnerships between business and the arts across Australia.

Two of the six AbaF Awards this year went to WA partnerships –the Fremantle Football Club in partnership with the Deckchair Theatre and Wesfarmers and its partnership with a number of arts organisations in WA.

Culture and the Arts Minister Sheila McHale said an increase in the number of nominations for the State Arts Sponsorship Awards reflected the extent of sponsorship in WA.

“We were also very keen to let people know about the award and we put a lot of work into that,” she said.

“I think increasingly businesses realise the economic and social benefits of sponsoring the arts.

“Significantly, the arts help attract investment to the State.

“People wanting to invest in the State make decisions based on the community’s cultural amenity.

Ms McHale said organisations that attracted sponsorship from the business community would not lose Government funding as a result.

“Companies will not be penalised,” she said.

“Our policy recognises the need to re-build the arts through funding and infrastructure.”

The establishment of Wesfarmers Arts in 1998 has played a significant role in the growth in corporate support for local arts organisations.

Department of Culture and the Arts director corporate affairs Margaret Butcher said that, although the major sponsors such as Wesfarmers were vital, some of the really interesting partnerships came out of the small business sector.

For companies with smaller turn-overs the challenge was to find an innovative solution that benefited both organisations, she said.

“They often have to work harder at doing something more innovative instead of just writing a cheque,” Ms Butcher said.

“The smaller companies have often found interesting ways to use a product or service.”

The growth of in-kind sponsorship arrangements has given some local businesses the opportunity to work with an arts organisation and benefit from the partnership.

“It’s interesting that with the in-kind arrangements there’s a lot of skills transfer,” Ms Butcher said.

“I think with these agreements you actually get those intangible benefits.”

A shift in the perception of arts sponsorship driven by both the State Arts Sponsorship Scheme Awards and the Australian Business Arts Foundation Awards has underpinned a move to establish true partnerships.

“There is now recognition that there are mutual benefits. Historically the benefits were just about logo placement, corporate citizenship and hospitality,” Ms Butcher said.

“There are some really interesting examples of the artists being involved with the workforce and using it as a vehicle to drive cultural change.”

A change in the nature of partnerships is also evident in the increased number of nominations in the category for outstanding long-term partnerships, according to Department of Culture and the Arts corporate affairs Cherie Hardingham-Braid.

“It’s evident that the sponsors want something longer term; they want a sustained relationship with the organisation,” Ms Harding-ham-Braid said.

“It takes a lot of effort to create the partnerships and it’s not some-thing the arts organisations want to be doing every year.

“It’s also interesting because Perth isn’t a head office town and I guess that demonstrates how successful these partnerships are because it’s not as easy here.”

The benefits for long term sponsors can be considerable, as is the case with Shell the Fremantle Arts Centre and the Shell Fremantle Print Award.

The award has developed into a national award that was vital in the evolution of the art form, Department of Culture and the Arts corporate affairs Hillary Lambert said.

“It’s something that Shell can be very proud of,” she said.

“To really see an increase in the number of entries this year and particularly in the long-term category I think that’s real evidence that this scheme is achieving its objectives.”

While both the research under-taken by the Australian Performing Arts Group and the nominations for the State Arts Sponsorship Awards support a trend towards increased corporate support of the performing arts, attracting corporate dollars to the visual arts is getting more difficult.

Art Gallery of Western Australia director Alan Dodge said he felt sponsorship support from the business sector had gone back-wards.

“What people are talking about is the performing arts,” Mr Dodge said.

Major research such as the results released by the Australian Major Performing Arts Groups didn’t consider the plight of the visual arts organisations, he said.

“I think it’s getting harder every year. If I’m going to name a trend it’s that businesses are sponsoring the arts in smaller amounts to individual organisations and expecting a higher return,” Mr Dodge said.

“That means we have to work harder for our dollar.

“I think often there are other pressures that have to do with direct results.”

Businesses that involved staff in the partnership delivered some of the most impressive results, he said.

Black Swan Theatre Company general manager Duncan Ord said there was a trend towards directing sponsorship monies away from both sport and the arts.

“In recent times there seem to be more companies working with charities or education programs,” he said.

“I think again it’s the case that the vast majority of companies in WA don’t support anything and a small group support a lot.”

It was not just a simple matter of driving outcomes for both partners; a change in the management team in an organisation can represent a real challenge, Mr Ord said.

Arts organisations needed to understand the culture and structure of an organisation to future proof their relationship.

“One of the big issues with arts sponsorship relates to the high turnover of management in the corporate world,” Mr Ord said.

“You also might start negotiating with someone but in the end the major decision making is handled by the head office, which is based in another State.

“That’s where it’s more difficult to operate here than in a similar company in say Sydney.”

There were many opportunities, however, and carefully crafted partnerships, such as Black Swan Theatre’s work with Hamersley Iron, illustrated the massive potential of partnerships between business and the arts.

Hamersley, as part of its commitment to the communities in which it operates, acts as the Black Swan Theatre Company’s regional production and touring partner.

This partnership supports performances in the remote towns of the Pilbara. The initial three-year partnership has recently been extended and Hamersley is now Black Swan’s regional arts and culture patron.

This partnership is just one of the nominations in the State Arts Sponsorship Awards ‘Outstanding commitment to regional arts and culture category.

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