Mara Walker

Mara Walker

I recently returned from Hong Kong where I participated in the International Arts Leadership Roundtable organized by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. As with many countries around the world, the arts and culture organizations in Hong Kong are often funded 70, 80, or 90% by the government. They need to diversify their funding pool and are looking to the United States as a model. I was the only American among other arts representatives from Australia, Canada, England, Singapore, Japan, Korea, and many others from Hong Kong itself – all envious of our perceived high degree of private sector resources going to the arts, our ongoing ROI on public sector support, and the existence of Americans for the Arts to advance all of the arts for all the people in this country.

While there is money on the ground in Hong Kong, evidenced by the beautiful Hong Kong skyline and downtown light show I witnessed nightly, there isn’t a culture of giving. Leaders from the arts, academia, business, media, and government were brought together to discuss how to create change and foster giving to the arts and it was great to be a part of the conversation.  Americans for the Arts staff are often asked to travel around the world to talk about the U.S. funding model for the arts in order to provide a roadmap for such change. There is a sense that we’ve figured it out. It’s true that we have a long tradition of giving in this country, but private sector support could – and should – be larger. It currently accounts for roughly 30% of an arts organization’s budget, with individual giving accounting for a majority and corporate and foundation support behind. IMG_5626

On a positive note, we are seeing increases in businesses giving to the arts (2012 saw a return to 2006 levels of support) but only 4.6% of total corporate giving goes to the arts, as those dollars are always competing with social and health causes for attention. Businesses focus their arts giving on impacting the communities in which their employees live and work, and we are working to build the awareness about how partnering with the arts can help them reach their business goals. I spoke about our pARTnership Movement campaign when I was in Hong Kong and how we are demonstrating that connection by changing the dialogue to less be about an ask for money and more about building strong and lasting arts and business relationships that are mutually beneficial – financial support often follows.

That isn’t to say that “the ask” isn’t important. “The ask,” whether for funding or partnering, is everything. Positioning the arts as a solution provider that builds employee creativity and retention and strengthens the community is key. We have seen the power of collaboration time and time again, which is why we feature success stories on our website, recognize where partnerships have been effective through our BCA 10 awards and communication vehicles, and share ideas for creative partnerships at conferences and gatherings.

Our meeting space in Hong Kong was in the new Asia Society complex which beautifully stands as a testament to partnerships, constructed with funding from both government and private sources. The venue now has not only a meeting space but also features a theatre and gallery, where they were showing the daring “No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia” exhibit, jointly presented by the Asia Society Hong Kong Center and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation New York as part of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative.

IMG_7066I also spoke to fellow arts representatives about the other two types of private sector funding in the U.S.: individual giving and foundation giving. The majority of private investment in the arts comes from individual giving, but it can be fair-weathered and is increasingly coupled with a desire from donors to be actively involved in decision making. Patron funding here is at risk from challenges to charitable giving tax donations and is sensitive to the economy and consumer confidence, but a strong relationship with donors can make for long-term funding commitments. Foundations, the third private sector source, are seeking new ways to measure the impact of their arts giving – a real challenge in that true impact can often take longer to measure than any single grant cycle.

Hong Kong has plans for a new cultural district in West Kowloon which is being designed to be a major hub for performing and visual arts activities, and is positioned to bring all of these sources of private sector funding together. It is initially being funded by the Hong Kong government with the hopes of future public/private partnerships that will lead to the engagement and enjoyment of all of the people. I shared that the U.S. has repeatedly seen the positive impact of cultural districts and what happens when the public and private sectors work together to invest in stronger communities.  West Kowloon is surely going to see that come to life when it opens starting in 2017 with the Xiqu Centre, a world-class performance facility for a very traditional art form.IMG_5679

I am proud of our private sector giving to the arts in the U.S. and our culture of giving.  I, and the other Americans for the Arts staff, are always eager to travel abroad to share our statistics and stories.  International arts leaders have a lot to learn from each other in our efforts to make sure the arts are understood as a community, economic, workplace, and social driver. Many places, like Hong Kong, are at a crossroads between valuing the traditional, like their famed Cantonese Opera, and celebrating the new, like the upcoming West Kowloon Cultural District. We are honored to help build bridges between the traditional and the new, the public and the private, and the national and the international, wherever possible.

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The pARTnership Movement


The pARTnership Movement is a new initiative from Americans for the Arts that provides businesses and arts organizations with the resources they need to make meaningful collaborations; partnerships that not only support a healthy, creative and artistic community, but that also give businesses a competitive advantage.
For more information please visit www.partnershipmovement.org.

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