Public arts funding in many countries is under threat from government cuts. As a result, many arts organisations feel compelled to seek corporate sponsorship. But who we take money from is very important: it acts as an endorsement of our funders. Policies that expand corporate sponsorship go hand in hand with further privatisation. This has ramifications beyond sponsorship: the outsourcing of cultural institutions’ workforces undermines employment security for staff and affects quality for visitors – see the example of the National Gallery in London.
In the UK, it is public funding, not corporate sponsorship, that guarantees that the doors of many museums and galleries stay open, with free access for all. We have proved that oil sponsorship provides a miniscule amount that could never replace public funding, and that it only goes to institutions who already have high prestige and advanced fundraising ability. These institutions are therefore far less likely to struggle as a result of public funding cuts. For example, the British Museum receives less than 0.5% of its budget from BP.
But in the context of public funding cuts it is especially important for artists and cultural organisations to decide independently and openly: what funding are we prepared to accept? And what should we refuse? What are we happy for our funding to do in the world?