So, they’re coming after the NEA again.
We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
And endured the slow death of a thousand cuts in the meantime.
So if you work for an arts organization, you are probably feeling concerned right now.
You need to turn this problem into an opportunity.
You need to share this problem with your donors.
The great thing about arts donors is that they get it. They give because the art form means something important to them.
You probably have many solid arguments for why arts matter. I’ll bet you can make the economic case from memory. You know about the impact of arts on education – improving literacy and math skills.
But especially with your individual donors, go right to the heart of it – and bring them with you.
Because the most important thing about your art form isn’t that it brings people downtown. Or even that it can improve kids’ abilities to read or do math.
I’m guessing neither of those is what drew you to your work, right?
If you love theater, you love theater – the logical benefits are nice, but you don’t leave Hamlet pondering its effect on your vocabulary. You leave the theater forced to confront your own approach to life.
Spending an hour with great paintings helps you see the world in a new way. And the symphony reaches into your heart – telling stories, stimulating emotions… changing you.
Your patrons and your donors go for the same kinds of reasons.
Your donors give because art gives to them.
Arts are not extras. Nice-to-haves. We have been creating art – possibly before our species developed.
We ARE artists. You are, I am, everyone is.
Art is communication. Art is a way to create and understand complex thoughts. Art is innovation.
Art is life.
And art is needed today – desperately. In a society moving ever more quickly, innovation is not only valued but necessary.
Art is also connection. And that, too, is needed even more now.
Creating is only one part of it. Perceiving is also where art happens. It’s a conversation, a communion.
Art is life.
You may have heard me say that people don’t make giving decisions based on rational arguments. And it’s true, they don’t.
They do justify their decision – maybe within seconds – with rational arguments.
If your job is to encourage support for an arts organization, keep that front of mind.
Begin with your love of your art form.
That’s what connects you and your donors. You have something important in common, right from the start.
If you work at a theater, or ballet, or opera… any performing art organization – bring your donor back to the experience with your words. Remind her why she was moved. Remind her why she keeps coming back.
If yours is a visual arts organization, walk through the excitement of really seeing a painting or a sculpture.
Recreate the experience for your donor with your words.
Do you still tingle a little when a curtain rises? Does your body move a little involuntarily when you watch a dance performance? Do you feel the brush strokes in that painting, or how that sculpture would feel under your hands?
It could be your donor does, too.
Take your donor there.
Go ahead and offer some justifications to confirm her instinct. But go lightly. Too many numbers shift her to a different part of the brain. And that part doesn’t like to give money away.
Instead, I’d focus on the emotion while making those arguments. Instead of statistics about improved test scores, take to the theater with a young student. Tell her the story of a young artist who became one because of support like hers.
Economic arguments have a softer side, as well. Art creates community – and brings money to local economies. And stronger local coffers means more to spend – which can help those who need it.
Here in the U.S., cities are where most of the population lives. Thriving arts organizations attract young people, provide jobs and spur innovation. In the words of Sir Peter Bazalgette “The new city quarters, where young people want to live, work and create companies need a soul as well as a sewer.”
That leads to the elephant in the room, though.
You may struggle with this yourself.
Why should someone support us when people are living on the street and hungry?
Why us, when people are dying from diseases that could be cured with more money?
When city schools are underfunded and underperforming?
First, at least in my experience, donors donate.
The people enthusiastically supporting your organization are likely the same people giving to the food bank or shelter. Generous people like giving.
Second, what if giving to art helps create the kind of society that cares for everyone?
We need new ideas, we need new ways of doing things and we need a whole new way of approaching each other with much more empathy and understanding. This means that the rest of society really needs to focus on the world of art and culture as a vital source for not only solutions, but also ways of finding solutions… and a whole new concept of what a valuable life really means.
~ Uffe Elbaek, former Danish Minister of Culture
I found that quote in “The art of life: how arts and culture affect our values”, an article written by Shelagh Wright. Read the piece – it’s really good. In it, she argues that art may have the power to change our society – and save our planet – by changing our values.
She adds: “Art and culture’s core practice is one of the most participatory, dynamic and social forms of human behaviour.”
Art makes us think, puts us in others’ place – creating empathy, urges us to communicate, and creates new ideas.
So what are the values your arts organization holds?
What does the world your art creates look like?
How are you changing the world?
That’s the heart of it.
And the heart is where your donor wants to be.
Make sure she understands she’s not a spectator, but a participant. Make sure he understands his choice to give is a choice to act, not just perceive.
Help them feel they’re creators, not just observers.
Help them create a better world.
More articles I liked about art and its place in our world:
Photo by Mike Petrucci