Arts Council prepares to give Tweedy’s business sponsorship body the heave-ho

Doyen of business sponsorship of the arts Colin Tweedy is in rueful mood these days, and for good reason. He’s waiting on tenterhooks to find out whether Arts & Business – the organisation he has built up over 27 years to champion commercial participation in the arts – has become the victim of a stitch-up hatched by his host body, the Arts Council.

The Arts Council, like every other quango, is under intense pressure to make deep cuts in its budget. And the suspicion is growing that, in order to save its own hide, it’s quite prepared to sacrifice A&B – which depends on the Arts Council for over half of its funding.

Naturally enough, that’s not going to be the way the proposal is presented to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. The pitch is more like this: [Much wringing of hands] “…so, Secretary of State, unfortunate sacrifices have had to be made for the greater good of the arts community and we feel Colin’s organisation… well, it does receive quite a lot of private funding, and it’s about time it stood on its own two feet…” Or words to that effect.

Actually, it does receive quite a lot of public money – about £4m a year – which for obscure reasons is within the remit of the wholly subsidised Arts Council rather than being funded directly by the DCMS (the case before 1999 with the then Department of Heritage). Pulling the plug of public finance, however, would not be the best calculated method of ensuring it stood on its own two feet. In fact, quite the contrary. Much of the 45% private funding might disappear if it is not matched by a pledge of public money. And even if it did not, A&B would be crippled by the drastic restructuring that would have to take place to ensure some pale ghost of an afterlife.

It says a lot about the arts world that some would greet this outcome with ill-disguised glee. To them, commerce is a grubby word contaminating the purity of the artistic dialogue. And, let’s face it, Tweedy – tireless champion of commercial support of the arts over nearly three decades – has made a few enemies on this account along the way.

But he’s not without friends, either. And one of them is George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a peculiar irony that Osborne, in whose name these swingeing cuts are being made, was – until his present elevation – a passionate advocate of the engagement of art with commerce. As you would expect, given he sat on the board of A&B.

Maybe the Arts Council should have a rethink. Not just because of Osborne either. The whole idea of doing away with our best-known and most successful arts sponsorship body seems daft, given that public subsidy of the arts is about to crater.

More about this in my magazine column this week.


One Response to Arts Council prepares to give Tweedy’s business sponsorship body the heave-ho

  1. Hugh Alford says:

    Ill-judged cost cutting such as this make the Government look like clumsy first-born killing Pharaohs.

    I hope that the rumours of the cutting of the hugely worthwhile work of Arts & Business are exaggerated.

    One of the most important areas of A&B’s work in addition to the sponsorship work,has been the placement of business talent to offer their time and business skills free of charge to the small arts companies e.g. Marketing, Legal and Accountancy etc.

    The glamour and high profile prestige accounts like the heavily subsidised RSC, NT and ROH can attract additional sponsorship from the Big Corporates with the implied off-the-record potential for gongs ,PR kudos , schmoozing and lobbying opportunities.

    The type of secondment training Arts & Business offers through its a two-way talent exchange between the arts and business is critical to the smaller companies in the UK Arts Industry.

    Colin Tweedy and his team have been the practical catalyst in reality of what is now called the” Big Society” for the Arts for 27 years.

    Let’s hope the Government has a rethink on this. Rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water, they should nurture the baby in the basket found in the bullrushes of 2010.

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