Friday 22 November 2019

A meeting of minds

The Allianz Business to Arts Awards are all about partnership and we must continue to facilitate this collaboration between our corporate and cultural sectors, writes Stuart McLaughlin, chief executive, Business to Arts

THE 20th Business to Arts Awards, 10 of these in partnership with Allianz and all 20 accompanied by the support of the Dublin Airport Authority, come at a time where, arguably, the mission of Business to Arts is more relevant than ever.

As pressures increase on all aspects of society, with purse strings tighter in both the public and the private sectors, it is vital that we work in partnership to find the most effective ways to make our investment in culture count. In recent years we have borne witness to an increased focus by the business community on the sophistication of their support of culture. Alongside this, we have been heartened by the positive engagement of Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan TD on the commitment in the Programme for Government to work with stakeholders to develop greater private support of the arts in Ireland.

It would be easy to dismiss this opportunity while we are in the eye of a storm, and when there are so many forces competing for our attention, but our work in Business to Arts is underpinned as ever with the belief that a rich stream of culture underpins the foundations of a rich society. That is not to say that culture should be supported at the expense of other areas, but that we must find the right blend of support that enables the arts to continue to be an important part of our story here in Ireland both today and into the future.

This 'story' has been the focus of much debate and discussion over the last two years, much of it triggered by the first Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh, where the topic of culture appeared as an unlikely winner and created an opportunity for the arts to take centre stage in rethinking and shaping the Irish brand and reputation internationally. Perhaps, a little sadly, this opportunity has not been grasped effectively. There have been some shining initiatives, most notably the Imagine Ireland campaign created by Culture Ireland. But while much of the internal debate has focused on challenges around funding and whether we should be wary of how we might 'monetise' the arts (a misunderstood statement if ever there was one), we have failed to fully grasp the task at hand of constructing a joined-up approach between our corporate and cultural sectors, which benefits us both locally and internationally.

As we approach the second Global Irish Economic Forum, to be held in Dublin Castle this October, we must re-examine this approach and bring a new cohesiveness to our thinking. We hope that some of the projects highlighted in this year's Allianz Business to Arts Awards can contribute to a realisation that, in partnership, companies of all sizes, from the global giants of Google and BNP Paribas, through to the indigenous companies such as Bord Gáis and local organisations embedded in communities, can work with the cultural community to create the environment necessary to reinforce our reputation for having culture at the heart of our story. Having done this, we must then look at how we tell this story and, most importantly, how we tell it together.

The very essence of the Allianz Business to Arts Awards is partnership. It might be argued that the ability to work together in a mutually beneficial way is increasingly important both in the context of the partnerships we celebrate, and in a far wider sense. It is clear that with the challenges we face there is little value in sitting in ivory towers or in retreating to our own positions of interest. We must address the challenges we face in partnership and this means being open to new conversations, to looking beyond a narrow range of interests and considering the widest possible ramifications of success and failure. In many of our actions it is easy to find ourselves preaching to the converted, but now we must look further. It is a feature of our own conversations between Allianz and Business to Arts in 2011. We are examining the methods and approaches that will allow us maximise the value that can be created by the annual awards, to reach new audiences and consumers and to engage more people in the discussion about the contribution that the arts makes to our lives, to the differences that our business can make in the impact of this aspect of society and to inform how we might do this in partnership.

These annual awards began before the economy boomed. They predated the Celtic tiger and, as with many aspects of Irish life, we might reflect that more could have been achieved during the good times.

But rather than this pensive reflection we, in tandem with our partners, will continue to look at the extraordinary opportunity that the current uncertainty can create and how we can make the most of this – for all of our benefits.

Also in Business