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Philanthropy for the arts

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Will Gompertz | 10:19 UK time, Wednesday, 8 December 2010

If you didn't know the culture secretary's name at the beginning of this week, you probably do now: it's Jeremy Hunt. And today he's making a keynote speech in London on the future of philanthropy for culture and the arts.

Jeremy Hunt


This is a drum he has been banging ever since he was given the culture brief when still in opposition. The arts sector has heard the aspiration, now they want the strategy. "Show us the money" will be the mood in the air.

The expectation is that the minister will announce some nice tax breaks for philanthropists that will help arts institutions ease open the cheque books of would-be donors. An announcement about lifetime giving - where, for example, an owner of a painting can offset their annual tax bill by handing it over to the nation - will be hoped for, as will be a rationalisation of the current tax incentives such as Gift Aid.

Jeremy Hunt has made much of wanting to import an American style of philanthropy, but that is predicated on the sort of tax breaks the Treasury is unlikely to sanction. Number 11 tends to take the view that in the UK the arts are paid for by hard cash in the form of government subsidy, while the Americans do it through tax breaks. Can the culture minister persuade George Osborne to let him have it both ways?

I expect there will be mention of endowments and maybe a move to allow museums and galleries to use their historic reserves to "pump prime" their own efforts to create an interest-bearing war chest.

The concept of match funding is likely to get an airing. As I wrote earlier this week, it is a tried and tested way of encouraging people to dip their hands into their pockets - if you give £1 then the government or one of its quangos will match it with another £1.

There's nothing wrong with the idea in principle but if there is no new money to put towards setting up a fund then it will simply mean taking money away from what Jeremy Hunt calls "frontline" services to create the necessary cash pile.

We already know the Arts Council England intends to turn some of the arts organisations it funds into "mentor" institutions or "strategic partners". This in effect means asking the best-run theatres, orchestras and so on to offer advice and some services to the smaller arts companies in their area.

The sharing of skills, particularly when it comes to fundraising already goes on throughout the country with institutions such as the Tate and National Theatre helping support regional partners. More of the same is a good thing.

Creating a culture of philanthropic giving will take both carrot and stick. Many in the arts sector feel that they have had the stick via cuts and the explicit request by the government that they must up their fundraising game. They are now looking for the carrot - a few big, tangible ideas that will turn what some in the arts see as ministerial rhetoric into some concrete proposals on which to base their fundraising efforts.


  • Comment number 1.


    is this policy

    'an owner of a painting can offset their annual tax bill by handing it over to the nation'

    the one where I buy an old master and claim higher rate tax relief on the purchase price as long as I agree to hang my painting in the foyer of the H.O. of my bank for one week every five years ?

    Here's a great idea for arts funding, find out what sort of art rich people like to buy/see and get the poor people through the tax and grant system to match fund their artistic needs £ for £.

    I can see one or two not agreeing with that state of affairs (Mark Thomas might be one)

  • Comment number 2.

    Why do the arts need any funding?
    If the cost of production cannot be recovered from the fee-paying audience, why should the tax-payer make any contribution?
    The vast majority of people do not attend opera, orchestral concerts, Shakespearian productions etc. but do pay the full, unsubsidised, commercial price to watch football or rugby.
    Why should the arty lot be subsidised by Joe Public.

  • Comment number 3.

    2. At 16:45pm on 08 Dec 2010, presario wrote:
    Why do the arts need any funding?

    Very good point.
    Just close the DCMS and save loads.
    Directly fund OfCom and English Heritage. Close everything else. Send the hunt back to the back benches.


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