A Strings-Attached-Arts-Philanthropy Rant
On the heels of Tyler's detailed diatribe about questionable corporate sponsorship arrangements agreed to by MoMA in recent years comes an article in the NYTimes today about the more open and honest acknowledgement, on both sides, of the business motivations behind corporate philanthrophy with regards to the arts in NYC. The article begins with the cold-hard reality that explains why the arts organizations are also seemingly sudden realists here:
Over the last decade, the portion of corporate philanthropy dedicated to the arts has dropped by more than half, according to the Giving USA Foundation, an educational and research program of the American Association of Fundraising Counsel. In 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, support for the arts was 4 percent of total corporate philanthropy, compared with 9.5 percent in 1994 — part of a general shift in giving toward health and social services.Such a decline might shake anyone out of deluded fantasy about why corporations do what they do, but personally I was surprised to read in this article how earnestly the arts organizations are defending corporations' ever-more "strings attached" philanthropy. But let me back up. Here's a summary of the situation:
When companies do support culture, they are increasingly paying for it out of their marketing budgets, which means strings are attached to the funds: from how a corporation’s name will appear in promotional materials, to what parties it can give during an exhibition, to the number of free or discounted tickets available to its employees.I have to admit. My first response to this was that this is a realistic assessment and that the arts organizations echoing this logic may signify a maturing of the arts in general. But a small voice in the back of my head, egged on by Tyler's post yesterday, wouldn't accept that. It's an obnoxious small voice, so I'll edit out the profanity, but essentially its argument goes something like this:
“Corporations are not Medicis; they never have been, they’re not supposed to be,” said Nancy Perkins, a senior vice president at Payne, Forrester & Associates, fund-raising consultants. “They’re not in business to be philanthropic.”
"Hmpf...you wanna talk reality, here? Fine, let's talk reality. "Corporations are not Medicis; they never have been, they’re not supposed to be." Perhaps, but there's a long list of things corporations are not supposed to be, like politician puppetmasters, war starters, cultural dictators, news manipulators, pension fund thieves, widespread polluters, etc. etc. but they are Blanche, they are! The original goal of corporate philanthropy within the arts may have been to associate themselves with high culture, but it was also to help humanize them in the public's eye. More than that, it was designed to give them cover for the lobbying of the people's representatives to do things that don't end up serving the people. To give them cover for calling in their chips with senators and presidents and pushing them to send our young men and women into war to protect their investments overseas. To give them cover for the way they get to stack the deck against the common man because they've got so many goddamn politicians in their pockets. I mean, if you want to talk reality.I told you it was an obnoxious voice.
Now that the corporations have all got scientifically effective ad campaigns and have brainwashed generations into associating all kinds of warm and fuzzy feelings with their logos and/or jingles, NOW, they're not the Medicis? NOW it's not their business to do philanthropy? NOW, they expect to call the shots when making a donation, and they expect the arts organizations to like it as well?
Well, I have a solution for that, my corporate friends. We'll legislatively cap CEO salaries at 10 times the lowest paid full-time employee's salary and tax the balance to fill the coffers of expanded federal funding for the arts. Hallelujah! You won't have to be the Medicis. You can go on about your business under the new laws and the arts organizations can fulfill their missions without your logos plastered all over their facades? It's a win-win, no?