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Creative Financial Approaches Support the Creative Economy

Max Donner

Government budget deficits and budget limits of charitable foundations have made alternatives for financing arts projects more important.

Five programs in Los Angeles this February showed that many other approaches to funding the arts can work well—and help arts organizations boost participation at the same time. Each program has taken a different approach to raising funds from private sources, demonstrating that there are many different choices that match the needs of different communities.

The Princess Grace Foundation USA celebrated its 30th anniversary with a reception for past grant winners in Beverly Hills and a gala for patrons in Orange County.  Generous contributions from patrons of the arts and several corporate sponsors have raised much of the $8.5 million in grants that the organization has awarded to promising artists and arts administrators.

But a significant source of funding for these grants comes from licensing projects and exclusive commemorative “Princess Grace” limited editions. The licensing program is highly selective and this has furthered traditional fundraising by prestigious associations with licensors, including Estée Lauder Cosmetics and Mikimoto Pearls.

Seven private companies and two nonprofit film festival organizations joined the Italian Trade Commission and public cinematic arts academy to present a weeklong festival of Italian art, fashion and cinema called “Los Angeles Italia.”

Patron support, and the track record the program has established for seven years, made it possible to raise substantial additional funding by selling color ads in the print program and running recorded advertisements before each film. This model would be too commercial for some art programs like an exhibition of portraits of America’s presidents at the Smithsonian, but proved to be an ideal match for this multifaceted 21st century arts program.

The Los Angeles Public Library licensed negatives of original works by Ansel Adams portraying Los Angeles in 1940. A private gallery, drkrm, has used the negatives to sell limited edition museum quality prints emulating Adams’ own style. The exhibition has highlighted a rarely reported aspect of Adams’ career and expanded the space devoted to high quality art photography exhibitions in Los Angeles. In addition, it has earned the attention of politicians who like this alternative to using tax revenues to support art exhibitions and art collections for the public library system.

U.S. Olympic Committee President Scott Blackmun joined International Olympic Committee Chair Jacques Rogge at a public forum on the University of Southern California campus.  “Sports, Education and Art” is the official motto of the IOC, which co-ordinates an extensive network of museums in addition to global sports and sports journalism programs.  The latest addition will be a $ 16 million museum campus to open in London this summer. The IOC allows different nations to finance Olympic programs according to their own customs and traditions.

Since 1978, the United States has followed a 100 percent private financing model for Olympic administration and athletic training. Over 35 years, this has built a stable, diversified, financial foundation ranging from nominal membership dues for individual amateur sports organizations to large corporate sponsorships. This stability has helped the U.S. Olympic Committee achieve stellar results, which include winning 39 medals at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Art of Elysium raised approximately $100,000 with a creative art auction that also promoted art collecting in a way that will strengthen the arts community as a whole. Art of Elysium’s mission of making art therapy more available to youth appealed to many California artists who donated small works for the auction. This also publicized the artistic talents of art donors who are better known for other achievements, such as actor David Arquette and actor/commercial photographer Scott Caan.

The program was a classic win-win for auctioneer Christie’s, whose sponsorship of the event at Smashbox Studios introduced a young audience of trendsetters to art auction acquisitions and provided Christie’s with valuable market feedback about the interests of contemporary art collectors.

At the same time, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman addressed the College Art Association about the benefits of continued public support for the arts. He cited several success stories that show how art projects give communities an improved identity and promote participation in civic life. The NEA’s Blue Star Museums program is enabling free admission to museums for U.S. military employees and their families and expanding the audience for art and history exhibitions.

Since the NEA’s own budget continues to be modest, the availability of private financing for art projects continues to be important; but private sector funding initiatives have an important attribute that NEA and other government arts funding programs do not have–that is “entrepreneurial risk.”

That means that there is no guarantee that the private sector programs will cover all their costs and that there is some risk they might be reduced or eliminated due to budget constraints.

The frequent success that many American arts organizations have demonstrated using private sector funding initiatives has shown that this is a valuable addition to support for the arts in America.

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