Have we travelled far?

ContempArtI have just been reading Contemporary Art + Philanthropy, Public Spaces/Private Funding: Foundations for Contemporary Art  as I revisit the nexus (is there one?) between philanthropy, tax policy and arts policy.

This monograph was created to record a forum held by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in 2007, and has a chapter by Rupert Myer (now Chair of the Australia Council) which I find still extremely relevant today.  So I asked myself – has much changed?

The chapter is called “The Austalian Art of Giving: Having Found the Way, Have We Lost the Will?”.  The focus of the forum was on private foundations supporting the arts, and this appeals to me as my current interest is Private Ancillary Funds and how they support the arts (who do they give to and what motivates them?).

The chapter begins with a reference to the long history of giving and patronage of the arts in the US (as we always seem to need to have a point of comparison), and reminds us of the importance not just of support by gifting works of art, but by funding positions for curators, professorships and departments to support the careers of contemporary artists.

We are then reminded of the generosity of Alfred Felton, and what has developed at National Gallery of Victoria through his bequest, and several other large gifts to the arts in Australian history including the Elder Conservatorium, the Power Bequest giving rise to the Museum of Contemporary Art, and support for regional galleries.

This contradicts the view that there is no culture of giving in Australia  – and yet, eleven years later, we are still hearing that philanthropy is in its infancy here, and we need strong leadership to model by example.

The Giving Australia 2005 report, which has recently been revisited as the Giving Australia 2016 report – which came out last year, notes that donors are motivated when they are   “. . .  passionate about particular causes or organisations . . .” and ask themselves “how can we add value to the community?”  This sounds very much like today’s language of creating impact and creating social outcomes.

There is a reference to the language of generosity rather than the language of obligation – “giving back” and a reflection on Australia’s tax system, and the lack of inheritence taxes or death duties (the absence of which acts as a disincentive to philanthropy).  We still have incentives such as Cultural Gifts Program, and Prescribed Private Funds – now known as Private Ancillary Funds, but many of the recommendations of the Inquiry into the Australian Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Sector (such as making bequests tax deductible) have not been implemented.

So what is new, or what has changed in the intervening 11 years?  From where I sit, unfortunately not a great deal.  There was a moment of excitement in the arts when Labour introduced a National Cultural Policy in 2013, and then promptly lost both the Minister (Simon Crean), and the election.  There has been dismay in the arts sector at the birth of the Catalyst Fund and cuts to the Australia Council which were then reversed.  There has been a huge growth in Private Ancillary Funds (there are now nearly 2000 of them) – but who knows how to find them or what they are supporting without paying a subscription fee or purchasing a directory?

On a more optimistic note, perhaps one could say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – the arts and philanthropy are still very good friends, and there are some incredibly generous supporters of the arts.

What do you think? How do you think we could improve relationships between philanthropy and the arts and develop better creative connections?

PS: ozphilanthropy’s author is currently enrolled in a PhD as a provisional candidate at Swinburne supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.



About ozphilanthropy

#Philanthropy. #arts Posts by Sharon Nathani, PhD candidate at the Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne focussing on philanthropic funders of the arts. Sharon's study is supported through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
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2 Responses to Have we travelled far?

  1. johnofoz says:

    This is indeed timely. What implications might the proposed Labor policy on franking credit refunds have for the arts sector? If most of the private support for organisations is via PAFs and donor advised sub funds then perhaps not much. But a casual review of the lists in many a program booklet would suggest there is a very large cohort of generous givers donating in their own names. The questions begged are whether many are in receipt of Government pensions and also whether many are funding their retirement, current or future, through self managed super funds. Extrapolating from ATO figures (2016) there are around 444,000 SMSF members in the pension phase who do not receive a Government pension (only 6% of such SMSF members do). Their average and median member balances are below $1 million so excluding the family home many of them probably don’t fit the “millionaire” mantle. On JohnofOz’s calculations (on the back of a cigarette packet) these people could lose on average around 10 percent of their disposable income. If that should happen there may well be significant reductions in the funds donated to a wide variety of organisations both in the arts and elsewhere. Of course with a budget in surplus there should be lots of Government money for all. But as always: beware the law of unintended consequences.

    • Thanks John, it’s a good point you bring up, because losing imputation credits may impact on people’s discretionary funding for charitable and arts purposes. Yes, it may not be sending our philanthropic-minded arts supporters into conniptions about meeting their own basic needs, but it could well reduce the flow of discretionary cash in the charitable economy.

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