Research: Art, money and society. Who should fund the arts?

It is accepted that art makes positive contributions to society, but a recent report by researchers Dr Grace McQuilten and Dr Anthony White looks deeper at how art can benefit communities and why it is worth funding.

Designer Francess Sesay at The Social Studio (Photo credit: Raphael Kilpatrick)

Designer Francess Sesay at The Social Studio (Photo credit: Raphael Kilpatrick)

The research report titled Arts, Money and Society: Private Funding, Public Benefit and Creative Social Enterprise details how art is benefiting society and the economy through means other than what can be gained by viewing art or treating it as a commodity.

“Following our initial review of existing relevant academic work, the research was completed in two main stages –a collaborative industry round table and case studies of organisations around the world. This gave us a broad understanding of trends and practises, alongside detailed financial and organisational models,” said Dr White.

The industry round table was held Thursday 7 June 2012 at the University of Melbourne.

“At the round table discussion we brought together a range of arts industry representatives, including artists, curators, philanthropists, administrators and expert academics,” said Dr McQuilten.

“Prior to the round table we asked participants to bring to us some of the biggest challenges they face and what might be preventing them from reaching their goals, whether they be financial, artistic or social,” she said.

The discussions ranged from sourcing funding to government policies.

“Opinions and experiences were varied, but participants agreed that the benefits of art don’t just come from viewing and discussing a finished work or exhibition. Social and economic benefits come also from the process of creating art and associated collaborations,” said Dr McQuilten.

These benefits were examined further in the second stage of research through case studies of creative organisations in Australia and overseas.

Melbourne’s The Social Studio, which uses fashion and design to help young refugees find employment was studied in detail.

Designer Atong Joseph at The Social Studio (Photo credit: Eugenia Lim)

Designer Atong Joseph at The Social Studio (Photo credit: Eugenia Lim)

“We chose a diverse range of organisations who are involved with the creative industries, from those which are involved in the creation of art to those who provide financial services to support artistry,” said Dr White.

Many of the featured organisations use creative practise as a method of social inclusion. These included Who Made Your Pants?, UK, which makes lingerie from reclaimed material and employs mainly women from migrant communities, and Sseko Designs, Uganda, which employs young women who want to pursue their own education.

Other case studies included Women’s World Banking, USA, which provides small loans to women around the world who want to start their own businesses, and No Longer Empty, which creates accessibility to art by presenting art exhibitions within spaces at the heart of communities.

These case studies, along with findings of the round table, produced a unique snapshot which included broad industry practices and trends, and common pitfalls. The research showed when the private sector is brought together with government funding bodies, community organisations, artists and audiences, social benefits can flow into communities.

“Often an artistic relationship between the private sector and artists can be seen as one where one party provides money and the other creates or provides access to art. However, we have found there is often a deeper engagement where collaboration begins at the very beginning of a project and negotiations occur throughout its implementation. This creates outcomes which are beneficial for all parties and communities,” said Dr White.

“The research shows collaborations through art can provide hope and confidence to individuals, and new methods of creative expression. This can lead to educational and vocational outcomes, and other economic benefits,” said Dr McQuilten.

The research report was launched by Julian Burnside AO QC in November at The Social Studio. A full version of the report can be found here.

The project was supported by the Jack Brockhoff Churchill Fellowship and the Myer Fund.

Anthony White, Grace McQuilten, Francess Sesay and Karl Sinlao at the launch of "Art, Money & Society"

Anthony White, Grace McQuilten, Francess Sesay and Karl Sinlao at the launch of "Art, Money & Society"

Story by Christopher Strong

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