Building a robust case for business investment in the arts, and the connection to public support

The following post is by Nichole Anderson, President and CEO of Business for the Arts and one of the partners in this symposium.  She provides a perspective on corporate views of why they invest in the arts, and the connection of their support to public funding.  BfA research shows that 100% of large companies say that public investment in the arts is important, but only 23% say they would increase their support should there be cuts.

I was in Ottawa and Montreal this month to present Business for the Arts’ latest research on business investment in the arts, and in Winnipeg and Calgary last month, as part of a cross-country conversation with government and business around what it will take to build a robust case for business investment in the arts. The findings are a result of a study we commissioned from the Strategic Counsel to help us understand the level of engagement in the arts by Canadians, why they engage and what they value about the arts, as well as feedback from businesses in Canada on why they do or do not invest, what it would take to increase that investment and how they value public sector funding as part of funding mix.

Vince Timpano, CEO Aimia, and BftA Board Member hosted our Montreal roundtable, and Julie Arsenault, BftA Board Member, moderated the discussion. In Ottawa, Janet Yale, BftA Board Director, and OTF Board Director, hosted and Gillian Smith, BftA Board Member, moderated the discussion. Gail Asper and Jean Giguère co-hosted our Winnipeg roundtable and D’Arcy Levesque, Enbridge, hosted our Calgary roundtable, with Greg Reed, BftA Board Director moderating the discussion.

The report is good news story for the arts, as the survey responses reveal a high level of engagement and interest in the arts on behalf of Canadians as well as high belief statements in the social value of the arts. Business for the Arts’ study shows that half of Canadians are involved in practicing some form of art, which we know translates to greater attendance to the arts, and Canadian parents are especially committed to engaging their children in the arts, from music to dance lessons to a high degree. In fact, 76% of parents say their children are involved in some form of arts activity and 83% of parents say they believe arts education is important in the overall development of their children. A challenging aspect of these findings include that much of this engagement in arts education is happening outside of the school system, and the typical parent tends to be the more educated and higher income earner.

As MIT thinker, McAfee describes in his new book The Second Machine Age, in the future we are going to need more people who are able to “ideate”. “Those people who are creative and innovative, able to ideate, will thrive in our increasingly digital economy.” How interesting that these are the very lessons an arts education provides. And, how interesting that Canadian parents are hyper aware of the advantages an arts education provides, as our study reveals. As funders in the arts, one can feel a sense of confidence in knowing that an investment in arts education is supporting Canadian families in ensuring a strong future for their children.

The study also reveals good news about business investment in the arts, beginning with the fact that business investment in the arts is up since 2008. Most of the investment in Canada comes from our large companies who reveal a strong sense of interest and belief in the social value of the arts. However, there are large areas of opportunity for the arts community to engage the business community further as our results show that only 38% of small and mid-sized businesses are invested in the arts, and 57% of those who aren’t involved say they simply haven’t been asked.

The challenge to increased investment from the business sector is the notion that the arts are competing with other sectors such as health and education. Canadian businesses emphasize that the more the arts sector communicates the social impact of the arts (i.e. impact to health and education) the stronger the case for investment would be. They also revealed strong interest in seeing their employees engaged as part of their partnership with the arts sector.

We asked large businesses in Canada what it would take to increase their investment in the arts, and they listed their responses as such:
Large businesses would invest more in the arts:
· 50% If an arts organization was active in providing arts education programs and outreach to disadvantaged
· 47% If it was demonstrated that the arts can promote employee engagement
· 40% If it was demonstrated that engagement with the arts enhances the wellbeing of individuals and the community
· 37% If a direct impact on the company’s bottom-line could be shown

We also asked business how important public sector funding for the arts is important to them. 100% of large businesses said government support of the arts was important. Interestingly, only 23% said they would increase support should there be cuts, with 53% saying they would maintain the same level of support. 90% of small and mid-sized businesses say they would maintain their current level of support. Again, revealing the hybrid nature of our funding mix in Canada, and the vital importance of both public and private sector working together to ensure a stable funding environment for our arts community to continue to grow and thrive.

We have been interested in generating further feedback and commentary about this research to inform next year’s research study and focus. Our thank you to everyone who has been involved to date.

Our thanks to Aimia, Deloitte, the Canada Council and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for making this study possible, and to our legacy partners for ensuring continued research work for 2016-17: The Honourable Hilary M. Weston, The Printing House, and RBC Foundation.

To read the full report, please click here.

Leave a Reply