There was a time when the relationship between business and the arts and cultural sector was defined by traditional philanthropy. Corporate organisations would support arts organisations by sponsoring initiatives and exhibitions, and in return the corporate sponsor would benefit from the positive brand profile and reputational benefits of association with the arts.           

While there is nothing wrong with corporate sponsorship of the arts, it has been really exciting to see this relationship change drastically in recent years, into something that is collaborative, and which both business and the arts organisations benefit from.

The creative industry in the UK is dynamic, thriving and growing in economic clout. Research suggest that the sector is worth £84.1 billion per year to the UK economy and creating jobs and regeneration at the heart of communities in the process. Yet with traditional funding streams under pressure, arts and cultural organisations are looking for new ways to collaborate outside of the sector, diversify their income streams and grow.

 

 

Businesses are also redefining their role in communities and seeking ways to build deeper, more meaningful partnerships that are not simply about giving – but also about collaborating and learning.

It is the convergence of these trends that led Business in the Community to create ArtsForward, a unique programme connecting brilliant business with small arts and cultural organisations. Initially working in London and Birmingham with the programme's founding partner, Deutsche Bank, the scheme aims to support 100 small arts and cultural organisations (at no cost to them) and in the process help them boost income, grow their audiences and create 1000 jobs by 2020.

Just one year in and we have matched 42 organisations with mentors, and in some cases Trustees and Non-Executive Directors. There are already practical examples of impact coming through such as East London Dance Company whose Deutsche Bank business support mentor is helping it develop a corporate offer. We are seeing all sorts of support given to a breadth of arts and cultural organisations, from support developing business plans, to advice on developing new income streams or tapping into digital tools and channels. 

"I would encourage businesses that haven’t considered the role they can play in the arts, to think about the difference they can make."

Of course it’s not just the arts organisations that benefit from these partnerships. Businesses get real value out of working in the sector, it’s a lot of fun, they get to experience the creativity and agility of entrepreneurial arts businesses and the employees who get to volunteer as mentors develop some great skills that they can bring back into the business.

Business arts partnerships are a real win-win for society, business, the arts and communities. As the funding environment continues to be challenging in the arts sector, there has never been a greater need for the arts to work with the private sector in new and innovative ways. We would like to see this activity taking place across the country in every community, with businesses from a broad range of sectors taking part. I would encourage businesses that haven’t considered the role they can play in the arts, to think about the difference they can make.