In Defence Of Private Arts

Myles Parish discusses the role of private enterprise in funding of the Arts

Every now and again, I come across little polemics that lament the amount of involvement that private enterprise has in the arts community – especially the music industry. Some of these writers believe that the taxpayer should be piping more money into the arts community than private companies do currently.

There are a couple of problems with this proposition. Firstly, the governments of this country at federal and state level are all struggling to fund and subsidise health, education and utilities – the taxpayer is already stretched beyond his or her limits. This lack of funds mean that we HAVE to rely on the private sector to provide some funding for arts projects – money doesn’t grow on trees.

One of the articles I read suggested that there are parts of the arts community who can only survive because of the funding they receive from the government. Well, there are also parts of the arts community that, given what they receive from the government, wouldn’t survive at all without additional funding. Take, for example, Quadrant Magazine. This is a very prominent classical liberal-cum-conservative publication, and receives funding from the Australian Government’s Arts Council every year towards the publication of ten issues. According to the Australia Council’s website, in 2008, this funding totalled $50,000. Then, in 2009 – which, I might point out, was during the highest period of the Rudd Government, so make of the following figures what you will – the funding dropped to $35,000, without reason. It took an appeal to its readers for Quadrant to survive. This is an illustration of the risks of having solely government-funded arts programmes to the exclusion of private patronage – in this instance, private patronage enhances diversity and freedom of expression. The government must be very careful not to use funding as a weapon to silence dissent.

A second case study is the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. According to their 2010 Annual   Report, their expenses in 2010 totalled $15,854,727. In the same year, the Arts Council provided $6,388,261 – that’s a difference of $9,466,466. This is some considerable shortfall. Some of it (about $4 million) is provided by ticket sales, some by the State Government and Lotterywest (about $2 million in total) – but private companies and  individuals, who sponsor and donate to the Orchestra,  cover the rest. In 2010, this totalled $2,903,534.

This may not seem like much – but consider this. The conductor, Mr Paul Daniel CBE, ‘appears courtesy of Wesfarmers Arts’. Mr Daniel is not just some blow-in from Perth Modern’s last graduating class – he is a world famous conductor who has several recordings to his name, as well as a CV containing orchestras such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the British Philharmonia, his period as Music Director for the English National Opera, as well as a year as the principal conductor of the BBC Proms. So, Paul Daniel is no small fry. He doesn’t appear courtesy of the government – he appears courtesy of the same people who make sure your grocery prices are down, and staying down.

Not only is Paul Daniel brought to you by private enterprise – so are a number of the performers, including the Principal Trumpet Player – courtesy of Commonwealth Bank. Janet Holmes à Court, one of Australia’s richest  people, loans a number of instruments to the orchestra. Chevron, Ernst And Young and the Water Corporation (among others) sponsor entire series’ of concerts.

What, then, can we draw from this? It’s pretty clear that governments alone cannot provide for the survival of arts. There are just too many interested parties seeking arts funding for there to be enough government money to go round. The altruism of private individuals and companies is essential for the continuation of the arts community – more government is not the solution.



2 thoughts on “In Defence Of Private Arts

  1. Come off it, Myles. The fact that private enterprise currently makes up a proportion of Arts funding in this state does (Or at least) should not come across as something ‘private enterprise does altruistically’. The very nature of corporate citizenship theoretically makes that practice mandatory; they are running a profit from operating in our state and that requires them to make a contribution to our society in the same way that we as citizens should pay taxes to fund society wide initiatives.

    The fact that it private funding of the Arts is percieved to be optional lets private enterprise off the hook much too easily. As I’ve said, its the business equivalent of a social contract.
    The Arts are something of intrinsic value and frankly, the private sector has a lot to answer for in using their funding of them as defensive advertising.

    Also, as a sidenote, maybe we could limit the extent to which private enterprise directly fund arts programs by applying more effective taxation. For example, mining companies that operate in our state currently make little effort to fund society-wide Arts programs and yet they profiteer of exploiting collectively owned resources. Private enterprise SHOULD fund the Arts (either directly or through taxation), its foolish to call them altruistic.

  2. I think it’s a failing of the government not to do more for the arts. At the same time taking corporations to provide specifically for the arts is a BAD idea. The system works with the corporations filling up gaps and this isn’t necessarily the worst thing. Patronage of arts has always been seen popular in the past and just because corporations can get a little recognition out of it doesn’t mean its wrong to let them.

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