Banking Woes and Classical Music Sponsorship

Tom Service of the Guardian (UK) hit out at the Banks in the UK for their sponsorship of classical music, particularly the festivals.

...many of our major classical music institutions are sponsored by one or other of our large banks – Stevenson is chairman of Aldeburgh Music, and one of his ex-companies, the Bank of Scotland, is the major sponsor of the Edinburgh International Festival, who took over from the Royal Bank of Scotland. In the past, such sponsorship has made the donors look like paragons of charitable largesse, doling out sums of money and time that make the difference between a festival being a provincial happening and an international event (even if those sums pale into insignificance next to the amounts bankers have annually given themselves in bonuses). But right now, the fact that the artistic directors of those festivals – or any of the other cultural organisations who owe RBS or HBOS anything in terms of support they have been given – have to suck up to these morally redundant ex-masters of the universe makes me feel queasy.

In Edinburgh, both the Edinburgh International Festival and the Hogmanay festivities (sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland) are huge lifts for Edinburgh in terms of revenue, but more important, in terms of spirit. These, and many other festivals, are what bring a sense of hope to people, particularly in times of strife. During the Great Depression, it was the entertainment industry that gave people hope. In the US, the government sponsorship of plays, artworks and festivals eventually grew into what is now the National Endowment of the Arts (although it took 40 years to establish). It is this sort of sponsorship that keep spirits alive and enabled people to keep working for a better tomorrow.

Yet, there are those that think governments are horrible at dispensing this sort of funding. The only other option is for the private sector to step up (and step up they have, sponsoring many of the festivals we enjoy today). IF we feel the major corporations should stop sponsoring the festivals, the basically what we're saying is we don't need these festivals. I say exactly the opposite is true. Now, more than ever, we need them.

What do the banks and major corporations get from sponsoring these festivals? Recognition and a sense of good will. Right now the banks are suffering because people look at the leaders and find them greedy, self-serving and excessively over paid. Well, what better way to resolve this impression by encouraging the bank bosses to sponsor festivals and concerts with their bonuses, rather than pocket them? The amount of money spent on festivals is pale in comparison with the money these bosses have received in bonuses over the past 5 years (the money Edinburgh International Festival received was less than 1% of the bonuses paid to Bank of Scotland in the same time frame - see below).

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs at the same time as the International Festival and doesn't require the same kind of sponsorship, but then again, the performers that come for the Fringe are paying for the experience and the audience is as likely to see a horrible show as they are to see a good one; there is no quality assurance for the performances. So, while the Fringe does a good job at lifting spirits too (and creating a sense of hope, festival, fun), it doesn't produce entertainment at the quality of the International Festival - and isn't meant to.

While I agree that the attitude of the bank bosses was sadly lacking in humility, we can not throw away the arts and the promise of hope for the future. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Replace the bank bosses? Sure, that's a viable option. But stop bank festival funding? That seems foolhardy to me.

Edinburgh International Festival sponsorship and donations £1.68 million (this is more than just what the banks paid in)

Bonuses paid to HBOS in 2007 - $270m (this does not include free shares in the company)


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