If you walk into an art gallery in Europe, you will see a common theme between them. Many of the art galleries, exhibitions, installations, and outdoor events are often sponsored by large corporations that have little connection to the art and culture they are donating to. For instance, from 1990 to 2016, BP, which is one of the world’s largest oil extraction companies, had donated money to the Tate Galleries in the UK as well as the Edinburgh International Festival. Both venues are world-famous for their display of creativity, art, and culture, and given their sponsorship you would see BP logos dotted around each event. Though it is true that art and culture are often underfunded and in need of cash to develop projects, critics are keen to point out that it is immoral for big corporations to continue this behaviour. They note that their intentions are dubious and can compromise the purpose of art for society. In the case of BP, they refer to its history of environmental disasters and so aligning itself with the arts is an attempt to improve or soften the image of the company.
Corporate funding has become a large source of income for public galleries, theatres, and opera houses in recent years as government funding has been cut. Being able to find new and alternative sources of income can only be positive for the arts and culture which only widens access to these places of wonder and creativity. Companies are also part of our global community and they too have a voice and right to support high-quality art and performances. Combined with this, they are supporting local communities, creating jobs, and more importantly, they are financing dancers, artists, musicians, and other creatives to continue their work. Their activities in a business are not connected to the projects they support as charitable endeavours. If people have a problem with BP, perhaps they should stop using their products and contact their MP (or government representative) instead.
Level: Intermediate: B1/B2
Running Time: 90 minutes +
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To understand this debate it is useful to learn the following words and concepts.
Pros and Cons of Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts
There is a strong relationship between business and culture
Businesses throughout history have been great sponsors of the art and culture we enjoy today. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci and inventors like Nikola Tesla were working closely with business people, governments, and patrons to produce their finest work. Art and culture is a partnership that benefits all who take part.
It is true that business does provide financial support for artists, writers. Without financiers, it would be impossible to enjoy culture and art as we see them today. The problem is more subtle. For instance, it is well known that artists often collaborate with their sponsors, and doing so means they are encouraged to be less adventurous and experimental with their work, just in case it might offend their boss. Their presence in art means that only works they prefer, enjoy, and desire will be made. Is it common with life now, what the people enjoy is very much the opposite of what the upper classes with money enjoy. Art and culture are made for and by everyone and so needs to be inclusive from beginning to end.
Businesses only care about their image and not about art
Businesses, at least in pro-business capitalist societies, are only concerned about making more profit and increasing the number of customers. If they sense that consumers enjoy art and culture then they will also work to join in. Companies often use artistic movements, like flash mobs, to bandwagon onto popular culture. They understand that culture is universally enjoyed and seen to be a neutral space. Their involvement is designed to develop a favourable image of themselves. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but it’s the truth.
Business does care about art. Companies like the Tate Sugar Company, Rowntree, Cadbury, and many others have worked to build schools, hospitals, art galleries, and more. Some companies do understand their social contract to create a better community around them. What needs to be done is to promote a different type of company culture and governance where working to help social issues is also part of a company’s responsibility.
Art and culture belongs to everyone, not just the public
Culture and art are products of human beings. That means that everyone, where ever they work, are also custodians, or owners of the art of a culture they interact with. These concepts are not in the ownership of one person, and you cannot ban anyone from producing them. So, this means that art and culture are the work of everyone at the same time. We can travel and become immersed in a different history of art and culture and yet it can be seen and enjoyed by all. Culture is not a commodity that can be bought and sold, it can only be shared.
There are many types of art not just “art”. There are classical, opera, theatre, and gallery exhibitions as examples of high art, which requires lots of financing and time to create. It is often time and labour intensive. Regular pop concerts and other events are part of popular culture. It is true those too are often quite expensive to make but their audience is far greater so it is easier to make a profit. The opera is a live performance enjoyed by a small group of people. It is a smaller economic model and so needs all the money it can get. Having new sources of income means this art form can last for many years to come.
BP or not to BP (activist group)
British Museum Director Endorses BP as Sponsor as Calls for Divestment Grow Louder (ARTnews)
All money is dirty – but it can still be used for good (The Spectator)
BP’s oil money has no place in the culture of art (The Boar)
Navigating the murky waters of arts sponsorship (ABC News)
When it Comes to The Arts, BP’s ‘Oil Money’ Is Far Less Compromising Than State Funding (Huffpost)
Images of people used under license from Generated Photos