This week’s interviewee is Jane Haley- the CEO of AbaF (the Australian Business Arts Foundation). As AbaF’s key purpose is to help the arts connect with business via professional development, advice and introductions, it seems like an obvious organisation for this month’s theme Should the arts act like a business? In addition to being AbaF’s CEO, Jane previously managed arts organisations in several states of Australia including Arts Access (Victoria), the Queensland Theatre Company, the Arts Council of Australia (ACT) and Sidetrack Theatre (Sydney). Jane’s extensive experience, diversity of roles and commitment to forging strong, sustainable relationships between arts organisations and businesses made her an ideal interviewee.
Interview by Eliza Muldoon
So Jane, Is it safe to assume that you believe the arts can benefit from business skills?
Yes. If you come from the premise that an artist needs to earn an income from what they do, what they love to do, then the more they understand about how they can benefit from the strategic offerings of business, the more they will be able to fulfil that need.
As an example, risk taking is a very important part of art making and it is actually something that we can learn from business, how to balance risks, take calculated risks, get the tension right between generating income and pursuing passions and artistic visions.
Do you think there is a difference between approaching the arts with a business mind and approaching it with an arts mind?
I think so. It is perhaps the difference between a commercial artist and a creative artist. Too often these terms have been overlaid with a lot of values, but essentially it is about the motivation. There are artists that pursue a career in the arts with the intention of making money or gaining renown and there are others, the majority, that don’t see the pursuit of material wealth as a great motivating force for them, their impulse may be to create work that expresses their perspective on their world or their message.
Do you think a close relationship between business and the arts could threaten the integrity of the arts?
We do still come across some arts organisations that maintain the belief that ‘I’m from the arts, ergo I’m good and you’re from business, ergo you’re bad’. There is also still some resistance to take what is seen as ‘filthy corporate dollars’ to fund ‘worthy’ works. That’s fairly naïve and simplistic though. I think, I hope, that the old notion that business is just buying credibility or using their community support as a way of disguising its actual evil intent has passed. Most major corporations in the world recognise that they are generating a profit out of the communities in which they work, and it makes good business sense, for political, social and economic reasons, to make contributions to their community. Arts are a part of that community. There are typically three key drivers for business support in the arts: brand alignment, employee engagement and community contribution. In a good arts and business relationship both the arts and business aims are supported.
How is the relationship between arts and business in Australia? Comparing 10 years ago to now.
Several years ago relationships were probably more straightforward and simple. There was a more direct relationship with, for example, the chairman whose influence was greater. We often hear from arts organisations that they have to work much harder for less. Now there are high expectations of arts. Corporate partnerships are based on very strategic decisions and there is a thorough analysis of whether the business objectives are being met.
Also, there are many more players in the field (from both arts and other community sectors) so securing and keeping corporate support is more complex and demanding. Although corporate support for key institutions is relatively strong and we are seeing greater support at a local level, the day has gone when the bigger arts companies and institutions had the private support field for themselves. Now you have a whole range of organisations which are much smarter about securing funding from business and donors.
It’s a very dynamic environment that is likely to become even more challenging as needs around environmental, health and other community issues become more urgent and the capacity of organisations in those sectors to make their case to business increases. The arts will need to constantly refresh its case for private support.
Should the arts act like a business? Reference material that may further interest you: