19 April 2010: Arts organisations should seek funding from many sources to survive the recession, conference hears

Arts organisations will have to be more businesslike and innovative, and seek funding from a variety of sources, if they are to survive the recession, participants at an Arts Council conference heard today.

The seminar, part of the effort to help the Arts Council's 400 funded organisations, heard from philanthropy and not-for-profit business experts how effective philanthropy and corporate fundraising can play a huge role in growing income from sources other than the State.

Opening the conference, Mary Cloake, the Director of the Arts Council, said the economic contribution of the arts had often been overlooked, but that it was finally being acknowledged.

"If we are to sustain that economic contribution, we need our organisations, which are the beating heart of the arts in Ireland, to rethink their business model," Ms Cloake said.

More than 3,000 people work for Arts Council-funded organisations, a recent report shows. The organisations, which generate an annual turnover of €192 million and pay more than €50 million in taxes, fear a worsening of the public finances would lead to further reductions in funding from the Arts Council.

Kingsley Aikens of The Ireland Funds gave delegates a high-level overview of the current philanthropic environment, and outlined the kinds of skills and structures an organisation needs to be successful at raising money in this area.

"The challenges are obvious but the recession will not affect all organisations equally," Mr Aikins said. "Those who put in place strategic fundraising plans have a better chance of survival and success."

Business2Arts chief executive Stuart McLaughlin said it was possible to raise money from both sponsorship and philanthropy, but warned arts organisations not to expect overnight success.

"Investing time in relationships with potential supporters is critical," Mr McLaughlin said. "Those seeking funds must be both consistent and persistent in their efforts, and everyone in an organisation, through board, executive and volunteers has a role to play."

Laura Magahy, the Managing Director of MCO Projects, stressed that relying solely on funding from the Arts Council and other government agencies for funding was dangerous.

"All organisations, whether in straightened times or not, need a mixed funding model to survive," Ms Magahy said. "Any other model poses a serious risk to the future of that organisation."

Deirdre Garvey, chief executive of The Wheel, stressed the importance of getting the basics right, whether a not-for-profit or a commercial enterprise. Managers should focus on  risk assessment, financial planning and management, innovation, maximisation of assets and other key business skills and objectives.

"All organisations need to ensure that they are run in a business-like way," Ms Garvey said. "This is important in the good times -- and absolutely critical in times of recession".

The conference saw a presentation made on behalf of Cork Midsummer Festival demonstrating how the organisation has reduced systematically its reliance on Arts Council funding, and adopted a more international outlook. The case study emphasised the importance of diversification, and directors and manager of arts organisations were urged to become "cultural entrepreneurs", networking widely and maximising their co-producing and fundraising opportunities.

The Arts Council's Director of Finance, Martin O'Sullivan, ended the conference on a note of optimism. He noted that one effect of the recession was the soaring savings rate in Ireland, and urged organisations to act swiftly to take advantage of this.

"With over €80 billion currently on deposit in Irish banks, the opportunity now exists to develop and diversify your fundraising sources," he concluded.

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Yelemba dance troupe from the Ivory Coast - Clonmel Junction Festival.

Recent publications
22 April 2014: Arts Council Plenary Minutes (March 2014) (PDF, 0.07 MB)
15 April 2014: Irish Arts Sector - Private Investment Report (PDF, 1.16 MB)
10 April 2014: Arts Council Prompt Payments Report January-March 2014 (PDF, 0.46 MB)