By Lesley Stones
MORE money than ever before is being handed out in grants to organisations and projects involved in arts and culture. Yet there's a widespread belief that very little cash is available, and arts projects are continually in danger of financial collapse.
Both of those are true: despite a lot of money being handed out, many organisations are battling to stay afloat. There are several reasons for this, it emerged during a recent debate on the state of arts funding called by Business and Arts SA (Basa) and Arterial Network SA.
"There is a substantial amount of money out there and it's a question of how the funding framework is organised and the system managed to ensure that money has the impact it's intended to," said Joseph Gaylard of the Visual Arts Network.
Gaylard pointed out that the National Arts Council is based on similar arts finding councils around the world, with one fundamental difference — it has no money. Most of the money holding up the arts comes from the national lottery, Gaylard said. Of the R877m in grants available for arts and culture in 2011, 87% came from the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund. Yet the fund has only eight panellists to allocate funds.
By comparison, about 100 people sit on provincial arts councils and about 50 experts sit on other bodies, such as the National Film and Video Foundation and the National Heritage Council, which distribute the other 13%. Plans are afoot to overhaul lottery grants because of the excessive time taken to adjudicate applications and process payments, and because of alleged corruption, political interference and conflicts of interest in allocating grants. Proposed changes include streamlining the process and making it less onerous to apply for smaller amounts. Panellist Monica Newton of the National Arts Council agreed that her agency was very underfunded, as were other agencies that supported the arts.
"We are all given very large tasks and very little money," she said. Ironically, more money is available now then ever before, yet there are more organisations scrambling for it and seeking ever larger amounts.
Newton said R1.9bn was handed out last year through government grants, corporate sponsorships, foreign donors and philanthropists. "The demand for funds so far exceeds what we have available it's laughable." But no one at the meeting was laughing.
Finally the idea that arts organisations need to professionalise and broaden their fundraising efforts began to dominate the debate. One organisation helping to achieve that is Inyathelo, which helps people improve their fundraising skills and strategies. Programme director Gabrielle Ritchie said organisations must raise their profile so potential sponsors are aware of them and, crucially, they need strong leadership and competent boards.
They also need a dedicated fundraiser; often the job is given to an overworked employee with enthusiasm but no experience. Raising money is a job for a professional, Ritchie said."Many organisations are in deep financial crisis to the point of closure. People have to get out there and tramp the pavements. It's critical for leaders to be involved in fundraising because they have the commitment to the cause and can build relationships and encourage people to get on board." Art organisations must change their approach and stop looking for the next big fonder or government agency to support them for a year, because that is no longer going to happen, Ritchie said.
The panellists agreed that arts organisations must increase their audiences to prove their value to potential f-inders. They should also target people in their communities as potential donors of smaller but more widespread amounts, rather than relying on one large donation.
Basa CEO Michelle Constant pledged to bring someone from Capebased Inyathelo to Johannesburg to run a workshop on fundraising techniques. Gaylard added that many arts organisations felt some kind of entitlement to lottery funding, and the time they spent moaning about not receiving a grant could be far better spent engaging with audiences and stakeholders. Local organisations could learn a lot from the artistic entrepreneurs who were thriving in other African countries, where there were no grants and sponsorships, he said. The answer seems to lie in taking some of the creativity expressed through the arts and turning it inwards, to apply creative thinking to the age-old art of fundraising.