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In February 2016 a report was published on a survey of income generation in the cultural sector in the United Kingdom https://app.box.com/s/6cbmysdvzguecbpso3x9hy8w7epm7j22. It shows the remarkable optimism and resilience of cultural organisations despite several years of cuts in public funding. They have found many different ways of broadening their engagement with their communities and have become expert in forming new partnerships. In general, they are doing a much wider variety of activities, in particular in the area of education, and are actually expecting income to increase in the next year, despite subsidy cuts. At the same time the BBC reported on a number of new arts theatres opening in London, with no public subsidy, and the most comprehensive survey of UK theatres ever published http://britishtheatreconference.co.uk/british-theatre-repertoire-2013/ showed that in 2014 newly written stage plays (I.e. not musicals) now account for the majority of shows in UK theatres – all this despite subsidy cuts.

There is an understandable fear that subsidy cuts will lead to a reduction in activities and to a ‘safety-first’ attitude to artistic programmes. All the evidence from the UK leads to exactly the opposite conclusion – looking for new sources of funds is associated with growing budgets, innovative social programmes and artistic creativity.

A survey out this month from Arts Quarter shows that over half of UK cultural organisations in the survey already have formal partnerships with higher education establishments and a further 25% are considering it. Partnerships include joint training programmes, sharing physical facilities and equipment, placing interns in the cultural organisation, academic research, marketing to staff and students and, in a few cases, financial support from the higher education body. 

Moving to a mixed funding model leads to re-imagining of the role of cultural organisations and their relationships with all sectors of society and local communities. There are many examples in the UK and other countries of dynamic and creative relationships with a wide range of partners which go a long way beyond traditional funding, and which help the cultural organisation to achieve artistic and social objectives. Cultural organisations are becoming more involved in their communities and less like temples – this makes them stronger and more resilient. 

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I am helping to plan a fundraising campaign to raise around €7 million for one of my cultural clients. The idea is to buy a building (which has its own history) as a home for the whole organisation and its academy. This would save money in rents and provide a PR boost for the organisation which is oddly invisible since it currently does not have its own building. A large part of the funding will come from private donors although a public campaign is planned later.

Private conversations have been taking place for some time but we recently got a group of wealthy and well-connected supporters together for a lunch in the building in question. It is in a real mess and requires complete refurbishment but it still has electricity and running water so it was possible for outside caterers to bring in food and drink. The food was good but it was all rather ad-hoc and we had to take care with dust, old wiring and even holes in the floorboards. But imagine how much more powerful it was for the architects to talk about their plans whilst actually inside the building and the ideas for how the organisation would be using each floor and room were more vivid. The donors loved it and we all took a deep breath inwards when one of them asked if the organisation could use an extra €3m for long-term activities if they could raise €10m rather than ‘just’ €7m. All the other members of the group agreed that could be possible and we had to assure them that we could put the extra money to good use!

Major donors don’t always want champagne receptions. It is often much more emotionally engaging to bring them to the reality of what their gifts will support, even if it means literally getting their hands dirty!