Plus Ultra (2009), Goshka Macuga on show at Sheffield Cathedral, one of the venues that participated in Going Public. Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London, photo © Andy Brown

Philanthropy must be backed up by public funding, report finds

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 13.07.2016
Analysis of how private and public sectors can work together
There is strong agreement among private and public arts stakeholders that “baseline public funding is a vital prerequisite in any discussion about private giving”, according to a new report by Museums Sheffield.

The Going Public report said that more lobbying and campaigning needed to be done to “force an acknowledgement from local and national government of their core responsibility for our cultural heritage”.

However, the report, which was published last week, also said there was an “urgent need” for philanthropy to play a larger role in museum and gallery funding, and called for more to be done to develop private giving.

“UK philanthropy in the 21st century stands alongside government funding,” it stated.

The report is the latest step in a project launched by Museums Sheffield last year to explore the relationship between collectors and institutions, and debate how the public and private sectors can work together better.

The initiative has seen venues in Sheffield collaborate with leading private art collectors from around the world on a series of exhibitions and events, as well as a 180-strong summit held in October 2015 that brought museum leaders and private collectors and donors together for debate.

According to the report, these discussions confirmed that there was a “strong desire” among private donors to give more to regional museums and galleries, but that they were not “prepared to plug gaps caused by government cuts” and were unwilling to invest in institutions that were struggling to survive.

“Philanthropy can’t replace public spending because the pot is just too big. We think about where we can support and where we can help… what’s more meaningful for us is where we can make a difference,” said Melanie Kassoff, the managing director of the Freelands Foundation, a charity that offers grants for the arts.

The report also found agreement among private collectors that too much private influence could undermine the integrity of public art institutions, with one art collector, Daniel Marzona, saying it would be unwise for museums in Europe to adopt the US philanthropic funding model.

“I have worked as a curator at PS1 in New York and I know what it means when certain board members have a lot of power in an institution and can push things in their interest,” he said.

The report recommended that museums and galleries should be viewed as social enterprises, and should tap into funds available for social investment.

It also said that training and nurturing museum professionals, and enabling them to acquire specialist knowledge and fundraising skills, was “central to forging meaningful philanthropic relationships”.

The report said that the Going Public model, which is supported by a mix of private and public funding and has seen its exhibitions attract critical acclaim and surpass visitor targets, was evidence that “the marriage between public institution and private individual can be happy, fruitful and enduring”.

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