Building Courageous Business/Arts pARTnerships

Posted by Jessica Stern, Aug 09, 2018 0 comments

Earlier this year, I was invited by the Utah Cultural Alliance and Utah Division of Arts and Museums in Salt Lake City for a professional development convening to present on the pARTnership Movement, a campaign by Americans for the Arts to teach business and cultural leaders alike how arts and culture can offer businesses, through pARTnership, a competitive edge.

With over 50 executive directors and marketing staff in the room, my aim was to communicate that arts and business pARTnerships can look like so much more than a transactional relationship. I’ve often heard (and experienced as an arts fundraiser), “Why can’t they [the businesses] just give more cash? We need cash.”

While the need for cash is real, our approach with the pARTnership Movement is broader. I could tell that this message was somewhat frustrating for some in the room, since so many cultural organizations are underfunded, and cash is badly needed. But as I expressed during my presentation, pARTnerships can exist in as many ways as there are creative ideas, and as arts and culture leaders, we need to remember that we are the keepers of creativity. We need a little courage to make these pARTnerships a reality.

The pARTnership Movement offers language, resources, and stories to help arts leaders “speak business.” It illustrates to the business community why they should be active partners with the arts, and how they can support the arts in myriad ways in addition to cash resources. Our primary vehicle for this illustration is via our collection of 8 Reasons to Support the Arts. In our workshops we encourage participants to think of all the ways their arts practice aligns with each of the eight reasons. By assessing the strength of things we are already doing, we can connect the dots using the eight reasons and other tools available on the pARTnership Movement site to create new ideas and identify potential new businesses with whom we’d like to partner. Often these potential relationships are right in front of us, ready for the taking.

So often, and because our organizations are badly underfunded, we feel we need to take any resources offered, or that we need to supplicate, especially to businesses, in order to receive support. The scarcity mentality is alive and well across the arts field, and it’s a state of mind that’s ingrained due to decades of knowing how much of an impact our work makes, and how difficult it has been to fund that work.

Many organizations are afraid to approach businesses, assuming either that they’ll say no or that businesses “aren’t interested in supporting the arts.” This is a myth we like to dispel in our pARTnership Movement presentations, because according to our 2017 Business Contributions to the Arts survey, 67% of businesses have never been asked to support the arts. Sixty-seven percent! No matter how big your community is, 67% of private companies is a huge swath of pARTnership potential.

In addition to the number of businesses that haven’t been approached, the nonprofit arts and culture industry has an enormous economic impact—$166.3 billion to be exact, according to our Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study. That means that when people come to your arts institution, they may buy an outfit, pay for parking, go out for a meal before or dessert afterwards, and stay in hotels. Businesses in those industries benefit directly from your existence as a cultural institution.

Think about that for a moment and let’s flip the narrative. Arts organizations are a major economic driver—i.e., you bring in the dollars. This is bottom-line language that business like to hear. Let’s not be afraid to inform businesses all that they can gain from partnering with us. Let’s remind our local business leaders that bringing the arts into their businesses by pARTnering with local agencies and artists activates employee creativity, which is one of the most sought-after skills among employers. Let’s not be afraid to show how creative pARTnerships can give a business a competitive edge, all the while supporting our organizations through human, communication, and—of course—financial resources. The tools on the pARTnership Movement website are designed to give the courage to flip the conversation and claim our voice as a cultural community. Again, we are the keepers of creativity; let’s not be afraid to walk with that confidently.

In-person workshops, like the one I presented in Salt Lake City, are available to travel to your community, and we relish the opportunity to work directly with arts leaders across the country to strengthen relationships between business and the arts. Please be in touch with our team if you are interested in hosting one of these workshops.

We are also now offering localized Business Contributions to the Arts studies in partnership with the Conference Board, which will measure business support of the arts in your community. Please contact us for more information.

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