Merrill Lynch to UK Arts: What's in It for Us?

Merrill Lynch to UK Arts: What's in It for Us?

While the British arts establishment has been dreading steep proposed cuts  that threaten to annihilate already-thin cultural coffers this fall, the UK's museum-going public has been taking to the streets of late in protest of the ills of corporate sponsorship — in particular the BP funding of the Tate,which led to a spate of oil-spill-themed interventions last month. In an op-ed published in the Guardian, however, Bank of America Merill Lynch arts and culture executive Rena DeSisto writes that both of these parties are missing the obvious real issue: that arts institutions are not accommodating enough to corporations.

"Cultural institutions must understand that the days of arts support based on executive whim are over," DeSisto states. Nowadays, these institutions need to offer companies "sound business benefits, such as access for employees, brand visibility, and client outreach opportunities" if they hope to get sponsorship. "This need not be a faustian bargain," she continues. "Treat your funders like valued clients and, like all satisfied clients, they will become more loyal."

 

Speaking of faustian bargains, the Guardian's Jonathan Jones recently wrote that if the British museums "can get money from Satan himself, they should take it." But even a pragmatist like Jones might blanch at the prospect of museums transforming themselves into branding opportunities for corporations — though lord knows this happens in the United States already. DeSisto writes that "companies have an obligation not to interfere in artistic matters," but it's a slippery slope once the patron-client relationship becomes one of bottom-up appeasement rather than traditional philanthropy — when arts institutions become a "corporate citizenship tool," as DeSisto chillingly puts it. 

"More engagement with business need not be the death knell for the arts,” she writes in conclusion of her op-ed. "Rather it may well be the key to its future." Unfortunately, it would be a future of corporate branding run amuck, straight out of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest."