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What does the recent appointment of Sir Peter Bazalgette as head of Arts Council England mean for funding? Colin Tweedy, chairman of Business and the Arts International, offers a point of view

3 min read

Sir Peter Bazalgette’s inaugural lecture as chairman of Arts Council England was keenly awaited by the arts community. Though he was widely tipped to succeed Liz Forgan, Sir Peter’s appointment caused more than a nervous flutter.

He was clearly the man the government wanted: a successful businessman and creative thinker, who was seen as a fan of private funding.

However, his inaugural speech at the Royal Society of the Arts in March was an elegant defence of the importance of the public purse and his words will have relieved many in the audience. Although he made it very clear that the private sector was a vital part of the equation.

Business investment is rarely “philanthropy”; it is commercial decisions that at present sway corporate decision-making in giving to the arts

Sir Peter described a recent tour of the arts in England when he formulated the idea of a “Grand Partnership”. This partnership, in his mind, is one where public money, philanthropy and commercial income join to create a three-legged stool. This not a new idea, but what is new is his emphasis on making such a partnership mean more than rhetoric designed to please political masters.

Sir Peter talked about making the case to those who are not yet involved, both individuals and businesses. He quoted Arts & Business’s 2010-11 Private investment in culture survey that shows business investment dropped by 7 per cent. It was the fourth annual fall; the total stood at £134.2 million, out of an overall private investment figure, including trusts and individual giving, of £686 million.

He rightly wishes to bring more businesses into the fold and reverse the decline in business investment in the arts. Where I would question Sir Peter, however, is in his choice of language. Business investment is rarely “philanthropy”; it is mostly seen as commercial sponsorship and, though it is laudable to talk of business’s “social commitment and their public responsibility”, it is commercial decisions that at present sway corporate decision-making in giving to the arts.

But corporate social responsibility has grown considerably and one of the main reasons that I led the merger of Arts & Business with Business in the Community in 2011 was to help business to see the arts as fundamental to community cohesion and wellbeing, as well as good sponsorship. Arts & Business is now well positioned in business in the community to work with Sir Peter to realise his Grand Partnership.