Finding all the silver linings
Reflecting on the 20-year milestone that has been reached by the Allianz Business to Arts Awards, Brendan Murphy, CEO, Allianz Ireland, highlights how such collaborations and relationships benefit both the economy and society as a whole
AT a time where the economy weighs heavily on everyone's mind, cynics can take a shortterm view and, within a literary context, tell us: "Now is the winter of our discontent".
But such generalisations miss something important. For if you read this much quoted Shakespearean extract, Richard III was actually celebrating good fortune and not woe. Put simply, if you look deeply enough, there is always a silver lining and through the Allianz Business to Arts Awards we celebrate many such silver linings. As our economy recovers, I predict with confidence that great things will continue to flow from the relationships applauded as part of these awards.
This year's shortlist features some of the most innovative collaborations we have seen in the 20-year history of the event, and we applaud their achievements, acknowledge their co-operation and are inspired by their inventiveness. But in these difficult times, we equally welcome the monetary contribution their actions make to our economy – in terms of tickets sold, jobs created and tourists attracted. Take the 'Casting Light' project by John Byrne and commissioned by Cavan County Council, for example, which won the Jim McNaughton Perpetual Award for Best Commissioning Practice in the Allianz Business to Arts Awards this year.
This outdoor video installation projected onto the front of the Ulster Bank building attracted thousands of people and presented Cavan town as a progressive and forward thinking place to visit – as well as those who saw it on site, around 20,000 people viewed it via the internet in the space of a week. Indeed, technology in general is playing an increasingly important role in today's business and arts collaborations in terms of solving problems faced by both individuals and organisations. 'Open Window' by Denis Roche, winner of the Jim McNaughton/TileStyle €10,000 Bursary for Commissioned Artists at the Allianz Business to Arts Awards is a case in point.
This groundbreaking project is an interactive web platform, showing video art, artworks and photography in hospital rooms as an alternative to the dull views out physical windows. Roche hopes to roll out to nursing homes around the country. As we marvel at the cultural contributions made by business and arts partnerships, it can be easy to forget the commercial dividend earned by such activity. The bottom line for businesses today is that supporting the arts not only makes good commercial sense, but it also delivers significant advantages to individuals involved and to the wider communities of which we are all part.
In 2010 Business to Arts worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival and the Belfast Festival at Queens to measure the economic impact of the festival and Ulster Bank's sponsorship. This research showed that the total economic impact was €8.4m and the two festivals employed the equivalent of 67 full-time employees in 2009. In the funding model the support of Ulster Bank was critical, sitting alongside public funders and box office income. As the Allianz Business to Arts Awards have progressed over the years, we have seen more and more creativity from communities addressing challenges from within.
We are, as a result, all the richer for it, as a society and economically. Again this year, I was blown away by how individuals and communities using little more than their creativity – but blessed by the support of likeminded entrepreneurs – have faced huge challenges by creating bold, colourful, practical and long-lasting solutions. Their collaborations have shown us that we have the artistic, intellectual and business capacity to thrive. Two projects in Carlow stand out in this regard, in particular in the way they engaged so many people in the community to achieve great things. The Shelter Me From The Rain opera, commissioned by Carlow local authorities, was a mammoth task made possible by a wide range of stakeholders from the National Symphony Orchestra to the Seven Oaks Hotel to Carlow VEC. Over 100 local people performed in this production reflecting Carlow life.
The other initiative was the 'Mixed Colony of Beauty' exhibition run by Pure Thinking Community Group. A local hairdresser managed to engage and involve various groups within the community to produce this photographic exhibition. In so doing, she contributed to her own business thriving and keeping people in jobs. While we have seen great change in recent years, there are some things that don't change. Allianz has been underwriting insurance in this market for 110 years and throughout that long period has supported individuals and through them their communities to achieve their potential.
For 10 of these years, we have embraced, encouraged and formalised this process through the Allianz Business to Arts Awards, and we are committed to being here for the long-term. We remain as partners to be inspired and to witness how both the business and arts communities through their collaboration continue to define and enrich both culture and economic well being in the years to come.