Some company recently was interested in
buying my `aura´. They didn´t want my product. They
kept saying, `We want your aura´. I never figured out what
they wanted. But they were willing to pay a lot for it. So then
I thought that if somebody was willing to pay that much for it,
I should try to figure out what it is.
Andy Warhol, the author of this anecdote, pursued a particular
philosophy with regard to his work, which seems to be perfectly
compatible with the said company´s interest, namely: Good
business is the best art.
This was not meant ironically; it can be taken as a perhaps provocative,
but undoubtedly accurate comment on Warhol´s perfect mastery
of image making, public relations and marketing. He was without
doubt the most successful artist-entrepreneur of the 20th century
and, with his Andy Warhol Enterprises, Inc., founded back
in the Sixties, he was probably the greatest Master of the Business
of Art. John Lennon even described him as the biggest publicity
man in the world.
Warhol refused to have anything to do with the idealistic belief
in an autonomy and a purity of the arts which set them apart from
all economic reality. As someone who started out as a commercial
artist, he was completely at home with the overlapping of artistic
and commercial values. His business orientation can be seen as nothing
less than a strategy to open up the work of the artist to economic
principles. Today, 13 years after Warhol´s death, art and
culture are positioned within a system of connections and dependencies
that is influenced more comprehensively than ever by economics.
In the past decade and a half in particular, the opposite poles
of art and business, often regarded as total antitheses, have entered
into a close association, welcomed enthusiastically by some as an
advance and a necessity, and bitterly criticised by others as a
I. The phenomenon of private arts sponsorship.
While the public purse increasingly remains prudently closed, there
has been since the Eighties, in the more affluent countries of Europe,
a growing tendency for the arts to be funded by the private sector.
As the state withdraws more and more from the provision of subsidies
for cultural institutions, numerous concerns, banks, insurances,
production companies and service enterprises are putting art at
the centre of their corporate culture and their public image. Art
sponsorship has developed internationally into an important component
of marketing and public relations. For several years in some countries,
there have been private agencies acting as brokers and intermediaries
between the art world and the business world, while in Austria and
Switzerland, for example, such a service is already provided by
the state. The existence of journals like Der Kultursponsor
or Sponsor News, and an annual international trade fair for
sponsors are evidence enough of interest in the subject. Sponsorship
as a business practice is understood as the promotion of artists
or cultural institutions by the provision of finance, material assistance
or services with the aim of receiving an equivalent benefit in return,
mostly in the form of publicity.
If an exhibition in a museum, for instance, is sponsored, the following
could be agreed with the museum: the naming of the sponsor on the
posters, programmes, tickets and in the catalogue; participation
in the press conference; exclusive interviews; a speech by a representative
of the sponsor at the opening; private viewings and free tickets
for members of staff or customers, mention of the sponsorship in
advertising and company reports etc..
These returns for services rendered are normally geared to corporate
aims, because a sponsor is a manager acting according to business
criteria, not a sensitive, selfless patron. Modern patronage in
the form of generous donations certainly plays an important role
in the financing of the arts, but a search for the motives behind
this practice leads into a grey area. The distribution of private-sector
donations as opposed to sponsorship tends to happen very discreetly,
though this does not necessarily imply altruism, since donations
are often associated with lobbyist ambitions. On the other hand,
there are very limited possibilities of setting donations off against
tax, while genuine sponsorship expenses, in Germany for instance,
can be put down as fully legitimate business expenses. In no other
European country is so much money spent on the arts by the private
and the public sector as in Germany. In 1994 over 2.3 billion Deutschmarks
went on sponsorship, most of it to sport, but also 380 million Deutschmarks
to the arts. In 1995 arts sponsorship amounted to 425 million Deutschmarks,
with the same amount being raised from patronage. The millions of
German sponsorship were a mere 3% of what the state, the Länder
and the cities spent that year on the arts (14.5 billion Deutschmarks),
and it was a small amount, too, compared to the 50 billion Deutschmarks
that German business spent on advertising and public relations.
Nevertheless, many large and small projects of individual artists
and museums could not be realized today without sponsorship, because
precisely the above-mentioned 3% includes the finance that still
allows museums, for example, to plan ahead for their exhibitions.
In general, sponsorship is always a business to the mutual benefit
of two partners, who, however, are pursuing different aims. The
sponsor wants to be seen as a business partner, whose interests
will be safeguarded. The central question must now be: how are these
interests dealt with? And what effect can private-sector arts sponsorship
have on the arts? Sponsoring itself is not the problem. What is
relevant first and foremost is the question of how this form of
funding is handled and what the long-term consequences are. But
first of all, at the outset, let us briefly consider what specifically
the interests of business in the arts are.
II. The economic interests of business
Klaus Siebenhaar, a writer on cultural studies and the history
of communications, had this to say of the Eighties: Backed
up by the empirical social sciences and socio-cultural research,
which diagnosed a change in values, a development towards individual
freedom and self-realization, a new thinking very gradually began
to make itself felt in the boardroom.
In many countries of Europe, forward-looking management theories
sought to incorporate specifically artistic qualities as constitutive
elements in entrepreneurial strategies. Business saw the figure
of the artist as embodying creativity, imagination and innovation,
individualism, self-reliance, and flexibility. In short: art was
viewed as intellectually stimulating productive capital for the
creative culture aspired to by business. Theoretical economist Kenneth
Galbraith summed this up when he expressed the opinion that the
artist, consciously or unconsciously, is an essential factor in
Thomas Bechtler, Swiss entrepreneur and president of the Züricher
Kunsthaus, formulated the interest in artistic activity as follows:
As a rule, the rational and analytical aspect is emphasized
and over-emphasized in management, and at the same time the importance
of intuition for management decisions is underestimated or completely
overlooked. But in many cases intuition plays a key role.
Art as a form of communication that encourages intuition can be
a means of learning to grasp a complex situation with the
help of a simplified image.
In short, this idea is very much in keeping with current post-modern
thinking: The world can no longer be put into words, it can
only be perceived and described with the help of images.
Notwithstanding all the rationality necessary to economic practice,
a commitment to art must now contribute, so the corporate view,
to a progress-orientated productivity and innovative capability.
The fact is, however, that the words creativity, flexitibility and
innovation, which are so readily bandied about, issue from the mouths
of advocates of the arts who attribute a significance
to them that they were not made for,
but by which they are increasingly measured. No artist creates a
work in order to serve as a proxy for or an expression of economic
efficiency. If so be that a work of art in a corporate collection
does indeed promote the professional creativity and motivation of
the staff and thus sharpens their competitive faculties, this certainly
has nothing to do with the thinking and the intention of the artist.
And that makes the basic difference in interests clear.
Apart from the productivity aspect, the construction of an identity
also plays a large role in the linking of art with business. Identity,
here, is not understood as a naturally given constant, but the most
general form of individual and collective self-definition.
Interest-led emphasis on identities and thus also on differences,
foreignness and divergence can easily lead, on the political level,
to negative policies of inclusion and exclusion. But from a business
point of view, establishing an identity appears to be an essential
element of a competition-driven market economy. The image of both
product and producer is extremely important for their social acceptability,
sometimes even more important than the objectifiable quality of
what is on offer. Many a commercial no longer even shows the actual
product, only its symbolic appeal. Richard Bachinger of the public
relations department of the Italian Olivetti concern had this to
say on the subject: In future only companies with a clearly
recognizable identity will survive in an increasingly competitive
market. Since the products are scarcely distinguishable as to price,
performance and even appearance, the identity and thus the image
of a corporation can influence the buyer decisively.
And now the fine arts no less are being mobilized to give a company
a distinctive image and set it off from others in the field, because
the fine arts make a visible and tangible contribution to the specific
corporate identity which has been strategically planned and put
into operation. Sponsorship activities or corporate collecting
the building up of an internal company collection can, however,
have an internal as well as an external impact in that they strengthen
the ties that bind the employees to the company. In the eyes of
business, art thus constitutes a socially integrating factor, which
ultimately is expected to provide an effective competitive edge.
III. The frank speaking of some sponsors
Looking at the glossy brochures of some European concerns, banks
and insurance companies, one still often gets the impression that
the motives of these institutions in funding the arts really are
primarily altruistic. They continually mention highly honourable
aims: commitment to art, social responsibility, support for young
artists, open-mindedness towards art, improvement of the quality
of life etc. No doubt there may be companies here and there who
really are so socially and philanthropically inclined, but the interest
of the great majority is in economics, and that is only natural.
The fact that sponsorship cultivates an ethos of responsibility
in which general social values like those that art and culture
supposedly represent for the sponsors - are used to justify a company´s
business activities is rarely or only coyly admitted in public.
Though in a survey carried out in 1994 by iFO, a German institute
for business management and research, 92.4% of sponsoring companies
named the cultivation of their own image as the primary motive for
In the USA and occasionally also in Europe people are much more
open about the question of interests where arts sponsorship is concerned.
George Weisman, chief executive of the American cigarette company
Philip Morris, wrote in an advertising brochure: The fundamental
interest of business in art is self-interest. [....] Our decision
to promote art was not determine by the indigence or the situation
of the art scene. Our sole desire was to be better than our competitors.
The consistency with which this aim was pursued became evident in
the mid-Nineties, when the New York city authorities were considering
banning smoking in public places. Philip Morris threatened to withdraw
their support for New York´s museums. Even in Switzerland,
they don´t hesitate when it´s a question of the criteria
of private cultural funding. Sponsor Hans Bär of the renowned
Zürich banking house Julius Bär was very frank on the
subject: Culture has become a business, and it´s the
same there as anywhere else: if something doesn´t sell, it
has little chance of surviving.
Alain-Dominique Perrin, president of Cartier International, explained
the sponsorship activities of his company briefly and to the point:
They allow you to seduce public opinion.
A public relations man with the American company Mobil Oil put it
more aggressively: These programmes make us sufficiently acceptable
so that when important issues are at stake, we can afford to be
That the company can be brutal towards artists and museums became
evident in 1984 when it threatened London´s Tate Gallery,
which it was sponsoring, with court action because it had put on
an exhibition of works by the New York artist Hans Haacke, some
of which take a critical view of Mobil Oil´s corporate policies.
In the mid-Sixties David Rockefeller, chairman of the board of
America´s Chase Manhattan Bank, summed up the real interest
of business in art in exemplary fashion: A connection with
the arts [.....] can make the comany known and give it a more glowing
reputation with the public and improve its image. It can make for
better relations with the customers, and awake in them a greater
readiness to buy the company´s products and a higher estimation
of their quality.
Accordingly, the prime aim in general is an image transfer, in other
words the projection onto the corporate image of the positive image
created by the sponsored cultural event.
The following questions now arise. What are the positive and negative
sides of form of cultural funding specific to the USA? What role
does business play here? And can we, or to what extent can we speak
of an exemplary model, from a European point of view? Against the
background of current developments in US art museums, a differentiated
assessment will now be attempted.
IV. The system of arts funding in the USA
Since the beginning of the 19th century, it has been generally
agreed in middle-class European society that promoting cultural
life is a fundamental public responsibility. It is a basic
principle of traditional American liberalism, on the other hand,
that it is personal initiative that enables people to lead an independent,
productive and cuIturally creative life. This attitude geared to
individualism and personal responsibility, together with the mistrust
of state intervention, has advantages and disadvantages. On the
one hand it hinders the setting up of a comprehensive system of
social security and health care; on the other hand it encourages
commitment in the individual, also for the common good.
Both the welfare sector and promotion of the arts in the USA are
heavily reliant on private funding, because the American constitution
contains no requirement for the state to take over any specific
responsibilities in the cultural sector. Consequently, museums,
orchestras, opera houses, theatres, universities and libraries would
be unthinkable without private commitment. Even America´s
single public-service television channel, the cultural channel PBS,
or a highly-subsidized museum like the National Gallery of Art in
Washington are dependent on patrons, sponsors and foundations. In
1990, for example, at federal, state and municipal level in the
USA, approximately 1.2 billion dollars were spent on the arts,
while in the same year the public purse in Germany, for example,
allocated over 11 billion Deutschmarks.
In 1994, American companies spent 875 million dollars
on promoting the arts, whereas German companies only spent around
380 million Deutschmarks.
These few figures are enough to show clearly the difference of emphasis
in the way the two countries fund the arts. But they also make it
plain that Germany´s extremely high-density, rich and thus
also much more expensive cultural landscape could never be financed
along American lines. This country at the heart of Europe, tiny
by American standards, has some 150 symphony orchestras, while the
USA has only 55 comparable ensembles; not to speak of the over 100
German opera houses with musicians on permanent staff, and the corresponding
institutions in America, of which there are only two dozen.
It is impossible here to go into the remarkable history of American
art collections, but the point should at least be made that almost
all US art museums owe their existence historically to private,
charitable foundations, with over three-quarters of them still continuing
to be privately funded. They are mostly run, at their own discretion,
by boards of trustees. The trustees are almost without exception
prominent figures from the world of finance and business. The policies
followed by the museums are determined indirectly by these trustees,
since the directors and curators are wholly dependent on their good
will and cannot act really independently. Apart from attending official
and social functions, fundraising is one of the principal tasks
of the trustees, because the museums receive on average only 20
to 30% of the money they need in subsidies from federal, state and
municipal administrations. There are, however, a large number of
museums which get practically no funding, like the Museum of Modern
Art in New York, for example. They have to earn the money they need
from entrance fees, museum shops, restaurants and cafeterias, and
lending fees. Apart from that, donations from private individuals,
membership fees and interest on founding capital play a very big
role. For cultural institutions, therefore, as also for the welfare
sector, education and the churches, fundraising is their main organisational
responsibility after the business of running the institute. Fundraising
is understood as the methodical form of collecting donations, and
no one in America would ever dream of denigrating the practice as
begging. On the contrary, a whole industry has meanwhile grown up,
with fundraising consultants whose profession it is to find money
which will be used for the public good.
A remarkable number of Americans regard it as a social obligation
to make a voluntary contribution to public welfare, whether in the
form of donations or of voluntary work. This philanthropic tradition
enjoys a high profile in the USA. To the private financial contributions
to the museums from members, citizens´committees, and individual
donors there came increasingly, from the Seventies on, funds from
business enterprises. Although the majority of money for the arts
continues to come from the private donations of individual citizens
and not from business, still the latter has become an important
factor, by now, in cultural funding. As far back as 1967, David
Rockefeller set up the Business Committee for the Arts, which
promotes cooperation between business enterprises and cultural institutions.
This association of businesses advertizes vigorously in trade journals
on behalf of its members, expressly pointing out the opportunities
to improve the corporate image and thus the success of the company
through donations, foundations, sponsorship and corporate collecting.
In general there is a high acceptance in the USA of the symbiotic
interlinking of art and commerce. However, the dependence of museums
on the businesses that sponsor them has taken on highly dubious
forms over the last fifteen years, namely since the museums have
allowed themselves to become involved without reserve
in the image building of large corporations. Thomas Krens, director
of New York´s Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and of the
museum of the same name, openly admitted: Corporations tell
museums which exhibitions they want to see realized, depending on
the tastes of their audience. [.....] museums have become part of
the advertising program of corporations.
In Germany this attitude has found its echo and its climax to date
in the words of Jean-Christophe Ammann, director of Frankfurt´s
Museum of Modern Art: We want to become part of the philosophy
of a corporation [....].
He rented the façade of his museum to a company who put up
there a giant metal cream carton. In the case of advertising like
that, which intrudes so aggressively upon the public face of the
museum, one can only wonder whether the people of Frankfurt are
able or willing to go on identifying with this institution. Rudi
Fuchs of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam went even further than
Ammann. At the end of 1999 he wanted to rent 600 square metres of
his institution to the car company Audi for the presentation of
new models. This grotesque pact was only foiled by the intervention
of the municipal authorities.
V. Arts funding in the USA: exemplary model or nightmare?
There follows now a discussion of three current problems arising
for the beneficiaries of the American system of arts promotion.
It must be emphazised that their citing below is not an expression
of typically Eurocentric prejudice, but is widely supported by explicit
1. Increasing self-censorship in American cultural institutions
Since for sponsors of events in particular, media response and
attendance numbers are seen as the only verifiable criteria of success,
projects with a wide popular appeal and hence a strong impact on
the media will always be most highly favoured by the corporations.
The programmes planned by museums or orchestras must appeal to a
wide public and above all to the sponsors. What is offered is thus
subject to the principle of acceptability, and this both reduces
the range of cultural variety and encourages tendencies towards
opportunism. Thus increasingly in the USA decisions as to arts programming
are taken in the light of whether it suits the requirements of potential
sponsors and donors. Under these circumstances, people´s traditional
perception of art as an autonomous quantity in the ideal sense and
also as a critical authority is losing more and more ground, because
programmes likely to upset the sponsors in the corporations
would not only put the personal careers of museum staff at risk
but also the survival of their institute.
This leads to an over-hasty compliance, which precludes risk-taking
exhibition experiments from the outset through the excercise of
In most American cultural institutions, in particular the big museums,
this phenomenon has been noticeably on the increase in the last
few years. Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, has said in public that he wouldn´t exhibit
any paintings in his museum that were likely to provoke, for fear
of frightening away the patrons and the sponsors.
For the same reason the great Smithsonian Institution in Washington
instructed the National Museum of American History not to report,
in the exhibition Science in American Life which opened
in 1994, on the damage to health caused by the chemical industry.
Particularly scandalous was the cancelling at short notice in 1989
of the big Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective in the Corcoran Gallery,
Washington´s oldest art museum. Because Jesse Helms, one of
the most conservative Republicans in the American Congress, had
fiercely criticized the state subsidy for this exhibition, the director
of the museum, a woman, called the exhibition off shortly before
it was due to open. In 1999 the director of the Detroit Institute
of Arts, closed an art exhibition in over-hasty compliance, because
the project that had been planned by his predecessor reputedly included
works that were blasphemous. The list of examples of this kind of
self-censorship could go on and on.
That self-censorship of the arts has meanwhile started to spread
in a European country like Germany, too, can be deduced from something
said by Brigitte Conzen, the former secretary of the Cultural Circle
in the Federation of German Industries (BDI): A sponsor has
no need to exert influence, since the projects that are suggested
to him have already been made `suitable´. The self-censorship
of the people making the suggestions functions perfectly and goes
into operation at an early stage.
This might be in the interests of business, but it is not in the
interests of culture, which cannot allow itself to be restricted
to what is entertainment-orientated and easy to consume. Social
acceptability, an understandable criterion for business, must not
become a basic category for a responsible cultural policy. The provocative
and the uncomfortable, the experimental and the minority interest
these need to be promoted too, indeed it is precisely these
that need promoting. Whatever already enjoys a wide consensus has
no need of additional moral support. (The so-called sponsoring of
concerts by Michael Jackson or the Rolling Stones, who have not
the slightest need for such support, seems particularly absurd in
2. The capitalization of the museums and their collections
European museums and art galleries are under increasing pressure
to work with profit in mind, to market art aggressively and to be
guided by entrepreneurial costing principles. The danger
indeed the actual consequence in some cases is of a `Disneylandization´
in the sense of a shameless populist commercialization. In the words
of the main sponsor of the controversial Berlin Biennale of 1998:
An exhibition must be managed like a business, geared to demand
for the product, market analysis, stated target.
The cultural value of an art exhibition was clearly measured here
with sole reference to the market. But what was the good of this
sponsor´s absurd notions if the experts´ criticism of
the project was damning?
In the USA too, the institution of the art museum is no longer
always first and foremost a place for collecting, conserving, researching
and communicating art as an elementary embodiment of cultural practice.
The museums and the objects in their care are today often described
simply as `assets´. Thomas Krens, for example, director of
the Guggenheim Museum in New York, habitually speaks not of the
museum but of the `museum industry´, of exhibitions being
`products´, and of the practice of `asset management´.
The estimated art assets of the Guggenheim Foundation amount
to at least three billion dollars. Following drastic cut-backs
in funding particularly by the municipal authorities, a boom in
museum marketing set in in the USA to open up alternative sources
of finance, and this is massively supported by business enterprises.
But capitalization did not just bring with it competitive analyses,
market research and product policies, it also involved a large-scale
assault on their own permanent collections. It is true that practically
every American art museum sells works from its own collection.
But in the meantime the entrepreneurial attitude of the museum directors
and their trustees has assumed proportions that have caused an outcry
even in the USA .
In 1990 the Guggenheim Museum sold for 21 million dollars at Sotheby´s
a painting by Kandinsky that from the point of view of art history
was hugely important, unique and one of the mainstays of the collection.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art followed suit and more or less at
the same time sold 149 works from its holdings. New York´s
Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Modern Art
Museum of Fort Worth and the Minneapolis Art Institute also took
part in a sell-out of their works. The periodical Art in America
commented aptly: The frank acknowledgment that art works represent
`stock´ or `assets´ violates a traditional idea of the
museum as a guardian of cultural patrimony resistant to shifting
Although the American Association of Museums has been emphasizing
repeatedly since the Seventies how important it is to keep a collection
together, and that when a work is sold it can mostly never be replaced,
the Shelburne Museum in Vermont auctioned 22 top-class impressionist
paintings at Sotheby´s a few years ago, to put its ailing
finances in order. The works were all from the Havemeyer Collection,
one of the most legendary of America´s private collections.
The first five works alone, which were auctioned in November 1996,
realized over 30 million dollars, but will be lost forever as far
as the collection is concerned. This kind of museum sell-out is
not necessarily restricted to the USA, as is evidenced by the negative
example of the National Graphics Collection and the Neue Pinakothek
in Munich, which in the second half of the Nineties turned a number
of works from its collection into cash, though a much more modest
amount, in order to fill the museum´s empty coffers.
3. The withdrawal of both public and private-corporate sponsors
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which was set up in
the mid-Sixties, is the only US federal authority that exists for
the specific purpose of supporting the arts. In 1996 this state
foundation spent a modest 162 millions dollars. A resolution passed
a year later by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives
reduced the amount available to the NEA to less than 100 million
dollars. Catastrophic is the only word for this development, because
the significance of the NEA lies in more than just the amount of
state funds it has to distribute. It has the function of making
manifest the reason why a beneficiary is worthy of sponsorship and
thus represents a challenge to private sponsors to co-operate in
giving their support. If this challenge no longer exists, this will
inevitably lead corporate sponsors to withdraw, which they are beginning
to do anyway, for other reasons.
Largely because of financial problems relating to the state of
the economy, many American companies, especially large companies,
are currently being significantly less generous with their sponsorships
and donations than they were a few years ago. Even a crowd-puller
like the New York Museum of Modern Art´s big summer exhibition
of 1996, Picasso and Portrait Painting, was made to feel
this. The fact that US business funded only 10% of the budget for
this exhibition can be taken as a clear alarm signal. Some companies,
however, are withdrawing their money from arts promotion not for
economic reasons but for reasons of political corectness, and are
putting it instead into the welfare sector, from which the government
is increasingly withdrawing. They give their support to schools
for the socially underprivileged, soup kitchens, hostels for the
homeless, the inadequate health-care system, or the fight against
youth unemployment in the cities. For these reasons, the immensely
wealthy Lannan Foundation, which had its own art museum in Los Angeles,
has stopped buying contemporary art in the last few years, and has
sold the most important works in its holdings.
The welfare sector and the environment have emerged as areas where
prestige is to be won, and in Europe, too, welfare- and eco-sponsoring
are on the increase. Although we live in a so-called leisure-orientated
society, visitor numbers have clearly been falling in a number of
museums and galleries in particular. If changing priorities should
direct the attention of the sponsors to something else, they will
doubtless have no hesitation in withdrawing their support from art
and bestowing their favour on other sectors, which seem likely to
do more for their image. Even though the forecasts optimistically
assume that expenditure on the arts by private sponsors will rise
in the coming years, this doesn´t alter the fact that business
has to maintain its flexibility, also in the negative sense. And
if arts sponsorship loses its appeal, the state will be neither
willing nor able to fill the yawning financial gaps.
VI. Opportunities and prospects
Since the question as to exemplary model or nightmare
cannot be answered decisively one way or the other, we shall concentrate
in conclusion on specifically positive sides of the American model
of arts funding. As far as the enormous number of private donations,
gifts and other provisions of patronage is concerned, one can have
nothing but admiration for the social commitment of the Americans
and their creative feeling for the arts. But to speak of a general
model for Europe in this regard is certainly not appropriate, since
the overall differences between the societies and the systems of
arts sponsorship are too great. In particular, we do not have here
that strong liberalist principle of personal initiative and at the
same time the individual sense of responsibility for social matters.
Nevertheless, it may be assumed that the search for private sources
of funding can be extended and to some extent professionalized following
the American model, if one thinks for example of the practice of
fundraising in the museum sector, which was referred to earlier.
We hear all the time that the willingness of private individuals
to give to the arts could be activated by improvements to the basic
tax laws. A private patron in Germany, for instance, is only allowed
to claim tax relief on 10% of his total income donated for cultural
purposes. In the USA, remarkably, there is no percentual limit whatsoever
on tax-exempted donations to causes that benefit the public, and
this of course is an enormus encourgement to people to give. It
is not surprising, therefore, that according to a study by John
Hopkins University the average amount donated per head for good
causes is the equivalent of over 1200 Deutschmarks in America and
only 170 Deutschmarks in Germany.
Gifts of art works to museums also come in for special relief in
the USA, in total contrast to Germany, and this has been so since
the beginning of the 20th century: The donor can set off,
for tax purposes, the full current value of the work, which can
be very much greater than at the time of purchase. Undoubtedly these
tax concessions are one main reason for private gifts,
as Richard Oldenburg, a former director of the New York Museum of
Modern Art, pointed out recently at an international colloquium.
On the one hand, therefore, there is a need in Europe for signals
to be put out by those responsible for cultural and financial policies
which will contribute, along the lines of the American model, to
encouraging a more positive attitude in society towards private
inititatives, particularly those instituted by patrons and private
foundations. On the other hand, despite all adversity, the aim has
to be adhered to of securing the necessary public funding
in the long term, in order to circumvent the negative phenomenon
of the withdrawal of private-corporate sponsors, the capitalization
of museums and institutional self-censorship, all of which can already
be clearly observed in the USA. Europe should also take careful
note of the fact that at the end of the Nineties, under the system
of mostly private funding for the arts, many American museum directors
expressed great dissatisfaction.
Numerous directors of museums, for example in Dallas, Chicago, New
York, Washington and Philadelphia, resigned their posts. The balancing
act between management and art, between fundraising and research
is becoming more and more of a frustrating acrobatic contortion.
Interests are too far apart and this is a constant source of conflict,
which American museum directors are reacting to with increasing
criticism or even with resignations.
© Hubertus Butin