Although financial institutions support for the arts has dipped since the financial crisis, the financial sector remains the biggest corporate supporter of arts and culture. John Schaffer speaks with a number of the most enthusiastic backers of the arts sector

Corporate sponsorship appears to be everywhere in the arts world. Big backers of the arts include oil giant BP’s controversial support for the Tate Gallery all the way down to Sky offering creative bursaries.

Financial institutions are no stranger to the sponsorship game. MasterCard has sponsored the Brit Awards for 17 years and Deutsche Bank has an array of programmes to assist grassroots projects, as well as its own private art collection. But can investing cash in the arts really help banks and other financial institutions corporate business model?

The benefits associated with sponsorship of large arts events are not too difficult to imagine. The partnership gives financial institutions a platform for branding and marketing, whilst providing arts institutions with the required funding. Partnership with large entertainment events also give employees of banks and card companies potential perks such as free tickets; an interesting alternative to gym membership or childcare vouchers. American Express, for example, provides a culture based discount card for all of their employees.

The immediate benefit of involvement with grassroots projects is less obvious. Banks and financial companies seek to improve their image with consumers, and a relationship with a developing arts project falls under the term coined Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR is a way that a bank or business can demonstrate that it is behaving responsibly in the community, so as to develop a personal relationship with its customers. This could include support for education projects and small businesses as well as the arts. Numerous banks including Barclays, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank have clearly defined CSR policies that attempt to present an ethical image of their companies.

Commercialising the relationship

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Although the need for banks to promote a clearly defined CSR strategy is evident – in particular since the sector’s reputation was hammered following the crisis – involvement with the arts goes way beyond a charitable donation.

Barclaycard’s funding of music festivals is a key marketing and branding priority. Barclaycard’s sponsorship of the 2015 British Summertime Festival in Hyde Park is seen as an opportunity to boost the card company’s profile as well as promoting the idea of a cashless festival.

Daniel Mathieson, head of experiential marketing and partnerships at Barclaycard, told RBI: "If you think about how people are at a festival, they need money, they’re going to have to stand in an ATM queue for 45 minutes to then go and join a bar queue for 30 minutes.

"If we can enable people and create technology such as B-Pay, (Barclaycard’s wearable payment technology), where we take away the need for that and we speed up the process at the bars and simplify the process, it’s a benefit for the consumer on site. There’s also a huge benefit to the organiser because of the cost of handling cash and the problems with cash wandering, should we say. It really could be a win-win situation"

Clearly, focusing on electronic payments will have the benefit of commission revenue for Barclaycard, and a music festival is an attractive venue to push contactless technology. There are of course difficulties, such as installing a payment infrastructure in a muddy field. This may be achievable in Hyde Park, but Mathieson said it may be more difficult at a larger festival: "When you start looking at the likes of Glastonbury it gets particularly tough because what’s really important is to make sure the network is robust. That comes down to creating a robust wireless solution on site and that’s challenging but certainly doable."

The card company also targets ticketing services, giving their customers special offers on entertainment events with promotions such as Fee Free Friday. Passing on special benefits to customers is a policy also adopted by MasterCard, which runs a scheme called Priceless Promises. This has been especially prevalent with MasterCard’s sponsorship of the Brit Awards. Shaun Springer, head of brand, sponsorship, digital & music marketing at MasterCard told RBI: "The event (the Brit awards) and our associated music programme will work to reward the 57.5m UK cardholders by giving them the opportunity to get closer to the music helping us foster a lasting relationship with our consumers."

Barclaycard also promotes its brand image through Venue partnerships in a more traditional form of branding such as the Barclaycard arena Birmingham and the Barclaycard Centre Madrid. But Barclaycard is also conscious of its social responsibility through projects such as its Music Potential Programme.

Mathieson said: "It became apparent to us that working at the top end with global superstars in Hyde Park and these big arena tours was one thing, but grassroots support is also very important to us and links very much to our overall Barclays group strategy. Music Potential is a programme which we went into partnership with Global Radio on.

"The heart of it is educational, giving people opportunities to learn about the different areas and skills required in the entertainment industry. We are giving them proper work experience on site at the likes of Hyde Park and in Global Radio. These are areas you wouldn’t normally gain access to, so it’s really opening up those opportunities for them and giving them crucial experience."

Deutsche Bank – the artsy bank

Deutsche Bank is clear in its passion for the arts. Although much of its involvement in the creative world is linked with its investment banking division, the bank claims that the benefit of partnering with the arts is pervasive throughout the whole company, including retail banking. Deutsche bank spent €23.46m ($26.54m) on arts based investments in 2013 as part of its Corporate Citizenship programme, with a total expenditure of €78.2m, including investments in education, social welfare and employee engagement.

The bank has an impressive art collection that it displays in its different international branches. For example, the London headquarters host works from the likes of Damien Hurst, Tony Cragg and Anish Kapoor. Sponsorship has also been present for the Frieze Arts fair, as well as projects that are grassroots such as the artist of the year award and the awards for creative enterprise. Sponsorship – from the artist’s perspective

The arts historically have a left wing sensibility, adopting a view of anti-establishment and challenging the status quo. Art and Music has often been overt in its critique of capitalism, so the partnership of the arts and financial institutions can seem a little bizarre. Although there may be an element of natural antagonism, the majority of the arts sector understands that the business community plays an important part in funding, with a decrease in available public subsidy.

The union between the arts and the business world is certainly not a new one. Artists have traditionally relied on wealthy patrons to support them. The Italian Renaissance, for example, received large amounts of funding from the wealthy Medici family, and RBS’ private banking subsidiary Coutts has a history of supporting the arts, beginning with founder Thomas Coutts’ donation to the Royal Opera House in the 18th century.

Play for Progress is run by Alyson Frazier, a Royal Academy of Music Masters graduate, and Anna MacDonald, a medical doctor. The organisation provides musical activities, such as therapy and education, for children in areas of recent conflict such as Iraq and Thailand and for children living as refugees across the UK.

The pair won a Deutsche Bank award for creative enterprises in 2014, after working with music based charities internationally. The award offers artists a £10,000 grant as well as business mentoring from a designated professional at the bank. Alyson Frazier, Play for Progress co-founder, said: "I will be the first one to admit that I had reservations going in because it seems too good to be true, ‘here’s ten thousand pounds we believe in you’. There’s always going to be a catch! But there truly is no catch, Deutsche Bank genuinely wanted us to succeed, they firmly believe in this idea."

Mentoring is a key part of the relationship between Deutsche Bank and artists. Nicole Lovett, a member of Deutsche Bank’s UK corporate citizenship team, said: "We provide winners of the Deutsche Bank Awards for Creative enterprise with a mentor who can help them in their first year in business so that they can develop a business plan that is robust an commercial. Equally, as they go through the programme, the mentor goes with them. They help to take it through each phase of the project’s development."

Frazier states that there was no conflict of interest in the partnership with a corporate organisation, she said: "I have no dirt! They’ve been great."

Virgin Money sponsor the Edinburgh Fringe Festival: "There are no financial incentives"

Virgin Money states that its sponsorship of the Edinburgh Festival is not for the purpose of financial gain. Brian Giles, head of communications at Virgin Money, said that support for the arts is based upon "real brand benefit".

With 50,000 performances across four weeks at 2014’s festival, the event certainly provides an opportunity to reinforce Virgin Money’s brand. Giles said: "We brand some of the best known areas of the Fringe Festival across the city, including the Royal Mile and the Mound, where visitors can see world class street performances for free. We also install branded stages so performers can showcase their work and, hopefully, get lots of people to see their full show."

As with other financial companies and their sponsorship of arts events, Virgin Money is heavily involved in ticketing services to further promote its brand. The company support the Fringe’s ticketing app, which now accounts for a large proportion of box office sales at the festival. Other promotions include Half Price Hut, giving festival goers 2 for 1 tickets.

Sponsorship after the financial crisis

Jessica Stockford is head of board development for Arts and Business, a Prince of Wales charity that supports arts and business relationships. She comments on the decrease in arts funding from banks, post 2008: "We think the decrease happened for two reasons: I think genuinely there was less discretionary spending to be had and cost centres were really having to be scrutinised. From a reputation perspective, while they were laying people off, making a big investment in a big blockbuster exhibition at the Tate or the Royal Academy wouldn’t have felt like a very prudent thing to do.

Sponsorships became a bit more modest. Partnerships were looking for much more in terms of employee engagement, as well as looking at social impact. They want to have a nice reach, for lots of people to be able to see them, but they also want the relationships that they have to have an impact and make a difference. So this is where they are looking for a lot more bang for their buck."

Although there was a dip in funding from the financial sector after the crisis, a report from Arts and Business, which assesses the corporate funding climate, indicates that the financial sector is still investing the largest amount out of any sector in arts and culture.

Daniel Mathieson talks about how Barclaycard’s approach to sponsorship has changed: "Sponsorship had to evolve from putting your name on something interesting and seeing what happened. Where sponsorship has moved to is very much looking at that whole journey around sponsorship. If you take our model of starting to communicate with people ahead of an event, when tickets go on sale, it enables us to have a conversation at that point through the build up to the event, with people getting all excited about what they are going to go and see.

"Then on to their experience onsite and how that can be enhanced. It really enables that much longer, deeper engagement with the consumer which wasn’t there a number of years ago and is a way the business has had to evolve to get the full value of a sponsorship rather than just the old school way of how it was used."

The future of sponsorship

It appears that arts sponsorship is here to stay. Financial institutions that are sponsoring the arts show no real signs of withdrawing their support, even in times of austerity. Corporate social responsibility develops community relationships and improves potentially fraught public opinion of banks and financial institutions. Sponsorship of arts events also provides potential for branding and promotion of products, so it is difficult to see the relationship between the arts and the corporate world being eradicated in the near future.