The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Protest performance against Louvre's sponsorship by an oil company.

The Paradox of Corporate Sponsorship of Arts in the Age of Austerity (Abridged)

The importance of corporate sponsorship for cultural organizations varies from continent to continent and country to country. In the U.S., with little government support for the arts, organizations have to find revenue wherever they can find it. For example, for many performing arts companies, donations and sponsorships can account for up to 50% of their budget. In Europe, with public funding for culture, including museums, this proportion is lower. The authors of this study focused on two European countries, England and France to make their case. They summarized the literature on sponsorship and analyzed four cases of major museums: the Louvre Museum and the Centre Pompidou in France, and the Tate Modern Museum and the National Gallery in England.

Traditionally arts in the United Kingdom and France are funded mainly publicly by governments, however, since the second half of twentieth century funding is being diversified to include private sources. Those sources can take many forms including charging exhibitions, donations, gift shops, sponsorships, among other forms. This orientation emanated from varied changes in cultural policies of the two countries, state austerity programmes in the UK, and the adoption of the free market model in France. Sponsorships has thus become an important mean to fund museums.

However, some museums have been the object of protests in their choice of sponsors because they were associating themselves with companies seen as problematic from an ethical point of view. For example, the Tate Museum ended its sponsorship of British Petroleum (BP) after several years of protests from industry professionals and activists; the same happened to the National Gallery which had accepted sponsorship from an Italian arms manufacturer (Finmeccanica), or to the Louvre with the oil company TotalEnergies.

Protest performance against Louvre's sponsorship by an oil company.
Pétrole ad nauseam. Libérons le Louvre, Sept. 8, 2018. Credit: Romain Nicolas and Rafael Flichman (Creative Commons)
Protest performance against National Gallery's sponsorship by an arms manufacturer.
Disarm the Gallery campaign launch, March 31, 2012. Credits: Eyes on Rights (Creative Commons)

However, it is not all sponsors that are problematic. Certain types of sponsorship can benefit both the sponsors, and the museum receiving the money. In the first case, the benefit is one of image, but also the possibility of increased sales. In the case of the museum, it can be a great source of revenue while benefiting the museum’s mission. For instance, in order to diversify income sources, the Centre Pompidou has launched a virtual centre with over 100,000 digital resources that provides an interactive experience of arts for people who are unable to visit the museum, or who prefer engaging with arts from the convenience of their location. The virtual centre and online shops are sponsored by corporations such as Pernod Ricard that financed the development and helped in the creation of mobile application.

Another way of increasing revenues that is not asking a sponsor from big corporations is to extend the brand to other cities or countries. This strategy can pay off. The Louvre Museum did this with the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The revenues generated from this move include a license fee of €700 million euros and the rights to use Louvre brand for €400 million euros.

In their discussion, the authors propose ways of managing sponsorship as a source of revenue so that it does not force the museum to choose exhibitions according to the sponsor’s susceptibility, or so that the choice of an exhibition is not implicitly imposed on the museum.

Among other conclusion the authors state that the alignment between the sponsor and mission of sponsee is an aspect to consider in achieving ethical sponsorship and improve community relations. A misfit leads to counter mobilization from stakeholders that disrupts operations as well as spreads negative publicity of the sponsor.

 

IMPORTANT: note that this article contains scientific references that we have omitted to lighten the text. Please consult the original article if you wish to quote excerpts.

Contact us at mmiam@hec.ca to request a free copy of the full article published in the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 26, Number 2, Winter 2024.

You can also browse our abridged research articles here.