I was recently an audience member at a panel about “Paradigms of Corporate Responsibility and Art Partnerships” at Art Basel Miami Beach and was not at all surprised to find that none of the panelists could fully engage in the topic outside of referring to their own models of standard financial sponsorships.
I am by no means an expert, but I did find it hard to resist jumping in at certain moments when I thought that aspects of my own experience in the field might have provided a small amount of value, or at the least another perspective.
When it comes to corporate engagement in the arts—whether as part of a marketing program or a much larger corporate responsibility platform—I think it is most important to ask two questions before beginning any kind of art related partnership or sponsorship:
1. What is our purpose, as a brand or corporate entity, in supporting art? (i.e. Is it to “look cool” as a sponsor? Or to excite our consumers? Is it to boost our reputation with a certain audience? To decorate and sell a product? To heal? To transform? To support individual artistic livelihoods?)
2. What does art “mean: to our brand/corporation? (i.e. Is it simply about design or decoration? Is it about provoking our customers? Is it about expressing beauty? Is it a reflection of our brand’s personality? Is it a means to inspire or educate? Is it something from long ago that hangs in a museum or is it the graffiti markings on an abandoned building?)
Once these answers are not only asked, but answered, it’s then important to understand what’s meaningful to my audience(s), what’s meaningful to the audiences of the art organization or artist the brand/corporate is interested in partnering with, and then seeing where the overlap is. I have said it before and will say it again, it is in the intersection—that place where meaning overlaps for both entities—where the power of the partnership lies. Moreover, it is through finding that intersection where both parties will achieve authenticity.
There are a few examples I tend to keep coming back to when it comes to authentic corporate arts engagement. And I’d venture a guess that the question “What’s in it for us?” was not the first question they asked themselves when they started their programs.
Check them out:
Puma’s Puma.Creative Program:
(In fact, Puma started two social networking sites just for artists to connect with each other: www.creativeafricanetwork.com and creativecaribbeannetwork.com)
Levi’s Workshop Series:
(I love that Levi’s created these public photography and printmaking studios—how fab, in this hyper-digitized world we’re in, to get art back into the hands of people, and people to get back to using their hands to make art)
Prada Transformer Project:
(Prada continues to define “cool patronage”)
(Less art and more designed focused, I think BMW has created something quite unique here with one of the most revered art institutions…better yet, they’re getting audiences to provoke and to think)
Target’s Arts+Culture Program:
(I know, it’s almost trite at this point, but I do believe they try to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to making art accessible, so it would be somewhat amiss on my part to leave them off of this list)
And that’s my two cents.