The Art Of Doing Business

With the deadline for entering the 2016 UK Sponsorship Awards fast approaching, Andy Fry looks at the compelling business case for arts sponsorship. For anyone wanting to enter their arts campaign into next year’s Awards, click here.

In the run up to November’s Treasury Spending Review by Chancellor George Osborne, arts organisations across the UK were bracing themselves for deep and painful cuts. But when the moment of truth came, it wasn’t as bad as expected.

Although the Department for Culture Media and Sport's (DCMS) overall budget is to be cut by five percent, Osborne announced that the Arts Council and the UK’s national museums and galleries will get a cash increase between now and 2020.

Explaining why he had saved the arts from the sharp edge of his austerity axe, the Chancellor argued that deep cuts to the DCMS budget would be a “false economy”, claiming that £1 billion a year in grants adds £250 billion to the economy. “One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media & sport,” he said.

Commenting on the Arts Council’s small budgetary boost, Peter Bazalgette, the chairman of Arts Council England, told the BBC that the Treasury had listened to the arguments made by the arts sector, which were based on the “positive benefits the arts confer on society in terms of education, tourism, regeneration, economic impact, quality of life and Britain's brand abroad”.

The government’s vote of confidence in the arts should also be welcomed by businesses interested in sponsorship. While sports tend to attract most of the headlines and investment in the sponsorship sector, the UK’s vibrant arts scene has proved to be a valuable strategic partner for businesses such as BP, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Bloomberg, Julius Baer, John Lewis, Castello Cheese, Linklaters, PZ Cussons and Lloyds Bank.

In terms of the reasons why businesses like the arts, there are numerous – depending on the objectives of the company in question. Brand profile is one, with the best exhibitions/events attracting high levels of footfall and PR, and also helping position the company in question as a cultural benefactor. There’s also the ability to reach out to third party stakeholders via the arts. Whether your brand is trying to talk to schools, communities, corporate partners or politicians, arts sponsorship can provide the platform for everything from education programmes to corporate hospitality events.

On its website, Arts & Business Scotland, an agency set up to encourage links between the two sectors, carries a number of testimonials that endorse the role of arts sponsorship. Typical is this comment from Harry Gibb, a senior project manager at Lloyds Banking Group. Speaking during a previous role at Scottish Friendly, he said: “To get TV coverage and national media interest for our sponsorship of the Scottish Book Trust's Children's Book Tour is a major success for Scottish Friendly as it really helps raise awareness of our organisation among key target audiences. Through this initiative, we have built a strong awareness of our commitment to the community, to our customer base and to future savers throughout Scotland.”

Equally effusive is Lady Susan Rice, a leading business figure in Scotland who also plays an active part in the country’s cultural life. In a previous role as MD of Lloyds Banking Group in Scotland, she said: “Engaging with and supporting the arts is one way business gives something back to the wider community. The arts are a vital part of what Scotland is and how the world sees us. At Lloyds Banking Group, we are totally committed to helping the cultural sector in Scotland to flourish - strengthening communities, cultivating valuable work-related skills and developing and engaging our customers and staff.”

Rice’s reference to staff is important, because this is arguably the area where arts sponsorship can have the biggest impact. In a 2012 article, leading business magazine The Economist took the view that: “Business has much to learn from the arts. Studying the arts can help business people communicate more eloquently…and can also help companies learn how to manage bright people. Studying the art world might even hold out the biggest prize of all - helping business become more innovative.”

This line of argument is echoed by Professor Giovanni Schiuma, visiting research fellow at Cranfield School of Management. In a recent report, he talked about how arts-based initiatives (ABIs) in business can “trigger, catalyse, drive, harness and govern the emotional and energetic dimensions of an organisation”.

For Professor Schiuma, ABIs are “thought-provoking and capable of engaging people into reflection”. They serve as “an alternative means to address issues related to business, but which require intuitive thinking, emotional arousal, aesthetic understanding, social intelligence and creative capabilities such as imagination, improvisation, empathy and flexibility.”

None of this should be a surprise, since creativity sits at the heart of all great businesses. From Apple to Dyson, it is the fusion of artistic sensibility and engineering excellence that produces unique brands. So it stands to reason that a wider application of arts, through platforms such as sponsorship, can have a transformative impact on every dimension of a business.

As the above list of arts sponsors shows, financial services have tended be the biggest supporters of the arts. But there are signs that other sectors are starting to wake up to the potential of arts sponsorship. Only this year, for example, Hyundai began an 11-year sponsorship with the Tate Modern, estimated to be worth around £5m. With VW, Ford, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz also involved in the sector (either in the UK or internationally), this signals a growing trend for automotive companies to lend their financial muscle to the arts sector.

Last year’s shortlist for the UK Sponsorship Awards also underlined this point. The winner was retailer John Lewis, for an innovative partnership with The Design Museum called How We Live Today. Designed to mark the 150 year anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis store on Oxford Street, the exhibition explored the design stories behind some of the retailer’s most popular products, including current best sellers and historical pieces from the Design Museum’s own collection.

Highly commended last year at the UK Awards was Castello Cheese, for a clever tie-in with Classic FM for the radio station’s live classical music event at the Royal Albert Hall. The beauty of the Castello campaign was that it showed you don’t need to be a FTSE 100 company to derive benefits from arts sponsorship.

If there is a challenge for would-be arts sponsors, of course, it is finding the right fit. This isn’t just a question of hitting objectives, but also making sure you don’t attract negative PR. This is also a consideration for rights holders, which don’t want their event undermined by demonstrations on the doorstep.

Spending Review Headlines


  • Returning to the Government’s Spending Review, the BBC listed a number of areas that are due to see investment. So this might provide a few ideas for businesses wanting to back the arts:
  • £150m for new "world-class storage facilities" for the British Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum
  • £78m to build the new Factory arts venue in Manchester plus £9m per year to run it from 2018-19. The venue will be designed by architect Rem Koolhaas
  • £20m for a Great Exhibition of the North and a new Great Exhibition Legacy Fund "to pave the way for future cultural investment in the Northern Powerhouse", run by Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome To Yorkshire
  • £5m for a new South Asia Gallery at Manchester Museum
  • £4m for a Birmingham Dance Hub
  • £2.5m for Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry
  • £1m to create a lasting legacy for Hull's UK City of
  • Culture 2017 and prepare for the next UK City of Culture
  • £500,000 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower in Plymouth in 2020



View the 2022 Winners

Follow us on Twitter