If you visit Tate Modern during the next few days, go down the ramp and turn right into The Tanks. On the opposite wall you will find images and notes celebrating thirteen years of the Unilever Series at the Turbine Hall.
It is a quiet celebration; a gentle place to reflect on what has arguably been the most significant arts and business partnership over the past decade or so. Many will forever recall the glow of Ólafur Elíasson’s The Weather Project, the thrill of Test Site by Carsten Höller, or the structure of Rachel Whiteread’s 2005 Embankment. Unilever’s money made all this happen.
Tino Sehgal’s These Association is the final work in the Unilever-sponsored series, which has attracted almost 30 million visitors over the past dozen years. Unilever says “It was planning a change of direction in its sponsorship programme, which is more focused on sustainability and the environment.” Where does that leave the arts?
Between 2000 and 2012, Unilever provided £4.4 million sponsorship in total, including a renewal deal of £2.2 million for a period of five years which was agreed in 2008. This is big money for arts partnerships and it created huge public interest and media profile for Unilever.
Unilever has had a long and important relationship with the arts over many years. This has ranged from the creation of the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight through to in-house amateur dramatics in the 1960s and an astonishing programme called Catalyst which ran over much of the last decade using the arts to inspire and engage their staff.
Their relationship with Tate began when Niall Ferguson was in charge and I recall him early on saying it was his passion for art that drove the investment. Clearly there was passion but what was the business case? Read the rest of this entry »