Following a wave of cuts to European cultural subsidies in the past two years, struggling arts institutions across the continent and in the UK have begun to explore new ways to generate funds. Most of the methods, such as finding corporate sponsors, are common among U.S. institutions, which have long relied more heavily on private fundraising than on public money. In Europe, however, governments have historically had a much more supportive stance toward culture, and the adopting of new funding methods constitutes a complete paradigm shift.
“I think you could call it an attitude adjustment, although that’s not a nice way to put it,” says Becky Gilbert, vice president of the European Fundraising Association (EFA), a network of 26 organizations seeking to strengthen development efforts for nonprofits throughout Europe. 1 Gilbert, an American, is also a member of the board of the German Fundraising Association, one of the EFA’s member groups. “There’s a long tradition of the state really being responsible for the arts—one might even say that the state replaced royal patronage of the arts. . . . The idea that private individuals would take responsibility is new, though it’s slowly catching on.”
Because of the speed with which some arts budgets were eviscerated—in the Netherlands, for example, some organizations lost between 60 and 100 percent of their government funding from December 2012 to January 2013—the need for change is still just sinking in.
“To some degree it does come as a rude shock,” says Axel Rüger, director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. “The British have been more advanced in terms of fundraising and have taken up more strategies from America. There are many American expats living in Britain, and they understand or know from home the fundraising models and approaches, which are much more difficult to establish in continental Europe. [The European model] comes from a very different mind-set. In Europe, culture has been understood to be a commonly shared good and a commonly shared commodity.”
Still, significant change is already under way, according to Sarah Gardner, executive director of the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies, a global group based in Australia. “New approaches, new practices and new forms of engagement are finding a foothold,” she claims. “How to create opportunities in such difficult times will be a defining process for arts agencies, artists and arts organizations.”
The following are a handful of ways in which European art institutions are securing funds outside of the government.
At major French museums whose acquisitions budgets have been cut, development departments are doing something that would have been considered gauche a decade ago: asking the public for donations.
Through the website tousmecenes.com, for example, people are encouraged to “participate in the acquisition of a national treasure” by making donations as small as $26 to help buy a pair of 13th-century carved ivory statuettes for the Louvre. With a short animation telling the history of the ivories, complete with comic relief by Venus de Milo and The Thinker, a video on the site explains that the aim is to restore the two ivories to a set—part of which is already owned by the Louvre—created for a royal trove. A small bar on the website indicates that the over $1 million needed for one figurine has successfully been raised.
The Louvre is not the only old-guard art institution in Europe to take up Web-based crowdsourcing. Among the cultural organizations that can be found asking for public dollars on thebiggive.com, a British website that helps participants match donated funds, are London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, House of Illustration and Tate. Helen Cable, managing director of The Big Give, explains that crowdsourcing is a previously underutilized means of funding and has become increasingly important now that “arts organizations need to start finding funds anywhere they can.”
Alexandre Boucherot founded Ulule, a France-based crowdsourcing website, in 2010. He says that major French institutions are beginning to use the site to raise money for projects, exhibitions and acquisitions, and that he’s also in negotiations with several high-profile, publicly funded art institutions about trying it out. He doesn’t want to share their names, however, since the institutions are still uncertain of how such efforts will be perceived by the public and, more important, by their sources of government funding.
“In Europe, one of the big questions is how crowdsourcing is going to be articulated with government and state grants,” he says. “People are afraid that [their participating in crowd-funding] could impact their public funding. We’re starting to see a more positive interest, though, and an understanding of how it can be done—not in opposition to what exists but either as a complement or an alternative to it.”
One obvious source of revenue for art museums is ticket sales. No one is eager to raise admission prices in today’s shaky European economy, but the good news is that Europe has seen an increase in cultural tourism over the last decade, and the trend is expected to continue.
“Museums are hot places to go, tourism is flourishing and so are short-stay city trips,” observes Wim Pijbes, general director of Amsterdam’s state-funded Rijksmuseum, which reopened in April after a 10-year renovation and expansion. “There’s a huge appetite for museums, and the demographic is getting younger and younger.”
As the largest museum in the Netherlands, and home to a top collection of Dutch Golden Age masterpieces, the Rijksmuseum is in a prime position to tap into cultural tourism, and that has made it especially attractive to sponsors and private donors, such as Heineken, KPN, Philips and ING bank. Through such sources, the Rijksmuseum can easily make up for the 10 percent government cut it received.
Vivienne Bennett, director of visual arts at Arts Council England, says England is likewise experiencing significant popular interest in museums. “In the last 10 years we have seen many excellent new galleries open, including Turner Contemporary in Margate, the Hepworth in Wakefield and Nottingham Contemporary,” she explains. “Along with that we have seen a growth in the public’s appetite for contemporary art. The Hepworth saw 512,000 visitors in its first year, while Turner Contemporary reached 500,000—three times higher than expected. This bodes well for the future of public galleries in England.”
Smaller arts institutions with lower public profiles, especially those focused on experimental or emerging contemporary artists, will have a harder time attracting tourists and the sponsors that seek to capitalize on a museum’s popularity.
Thomas Peutz, president and artistic director of the nonprofit New Art Space Amsterdam (NASA), says the main problem with the way cuts were administered in many European countries is that governments cut most aggressively at institutions they deemed relatively unpopular and thus out of tune with the public’s interest—precisely the kind of venues least able to garner private sources of funding.
Peutz’s space used to be called SMART Project Space, but at the beginning of this year it consolidated operations with the Netherlands Media Art Institute (NIMk), which lost almost all of its federal funding as of January 1. The former NIMk has now moved into the former SMART space, and the consolidation has allowed for a bit more funding. Apart, the two institutions would each have less money; together, they have a bit more to share.
“A lot of self-generated income comes from reaching out to new audiences,” Peutz says. And this, he adds, can only benefit the cultural sector: if there’s an upside to the cuts, it’s that people in the art world in the Netherlands might now have more of a sense of civic responsibility.
This year, one of Europe’s most prestigious art-residency programs, the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, suffered a more than 60 percent cut to its annual budget, from $4.4 million to $1.4 million, when the Dutch government decided to redefine the nation’s cultural spending. Established in 1870, the Rijksakademie used to run Holland’s Prix de Rome prize, maintain a library with original artist portfolios from the past 300 years, and offer 55 spots in its two-year-long residencies to international rising stars (its recent alumni include Ryan Gander and Georgina Starr). With the budget cuts, the Rijksakademie has been forced to relinquish its role as Prix de Rome organizer and to close the library; it will now focus its energies solely on the residency program, which can no longer offer as many spots.
To further manage the cuts, the program has started to look at creative ways to get funding from nontraditional sources. A recent model for how to do so, says director Els van Odijk, is a project by former resident artist Bradley Pitts, whose work, as Pitts describes it in an artist’s statement, attempts to “pursue immeasurable, singular experiences.”
For a project called The Ellipsoidal Introspective Optic, he collaborated with a scientist, Raymond van Ee, to
create a high-precision mirror that would reflect the gaze of his left eye into the right and vice versa. The resulting work looks like a large glass lens in a stainless-steel casement. Pitts shows the mirror as an artwork, and van Ee used it for his optical experiments at Philips Research Laboratories. Funding came from the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences.
This multidisciplinary collaboration demonstrates the new kind of thinking the Rijksakademie will have to employ in helping residents secure necessary grant money for their projects. “Because we have been working largely in isolation, we have never felt a need to do this before,” says van Odijk. “We are now, through our partnerships, trying to make it clear that places like the Rijksakademie have an enormous impact on the culture. We’re trying to show the relevance to the broader society and also the responsibility the society should take to at least subsidize the backbone [of such work].”
If you were to tell an American museum director to operate without an endowment, he or she would probably laugh you out of the room. European institutions, however, have never had surplus resources to rely on. That’s the nature of the European funding paradigm.
“In a traditional state-subsidy model you’re not supposed to have any extraneous funds,” Rüger of the Van Gogh Museum explains. “Whatever money you have at the end of the year, you put into your department, or else you can’t justify asking for more money next year. Some European countries have regulations against endowments.”
Institutions haven’t yet learned how to save, and private donors aren’t necessarily willing to give money to an arts institution if that money is just going to sit in a bank. “Ultimately, in order to become more independent, institutions should have endowments,” says Rüger. “They’ll have to start making the case for that.”
But European art institutions aren’t at that stage yet. They have to first learn fundraising, Rüger says. “Not learn different ways of fundraising, but learn fundraising, period. You can’t just hire someone and put a plaque on the door saying ‘fundraising department’ and have the money start rolling in. You need time to hire people, develop links and try to make it happen. For many institutions, that’s only starting now.”
Nina Siegal is a New York-born, Amsterdam-based journalist, editor and novelist. Her second novel, which concerns a Rembrandt painting, will be published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday in 2014.
This is part two of Siegal’s consideration of European arts funding. For part one, click here.
1. All quotes are from interviews the author conducted by phone or e-mail in March 2013.