Anna Connell: Why I’m a patron of the arts

Last week my partner and I attended our first event as patrons of a prominent arts and culture event in Auckland. We were a little apprehensive attending as we knew we could be among the youngest there and we definitely aren’t at the top end of the philanthropic giving spectrum with the donation we’ve made.

Our Toyota station wagon might have looked a tad out of place on the streets of Remuera but we didn’t feel the same inside the home of the patrons hosting the event. We were greeted warmly, chatted with some fantastic people and felt suitably rewarded and recognised for what we were doing.

Now I know how all this sounds. I know it sounds extremely lovely and pass the chardonnay. Perhaps a bit gauche? A bit bougie? I know we are lucky to be in a position to be able make donations and while we were indeed the youngest in attendance, I know we would be viewed as having a fair amount in common with other arts patrons in Auckland (if you know what I mean).

I know there are myriad other causes. I know kids are going hungry and people are sleeping in cars. I know art isn’t necessarily an obvious solution to any of this and I know many people perceive the higher arts in particular as a luxury; a pastime of rich pākehā.

I know all these things because I used to work in the arts sector for one of New Zealand’s premier arts companies. I wrote funding applications and organised patrons’ functions and hustled for sponsorship.

I know how the sector can be perceived and I know who gives within it.

In Auckland, we are blessed with a group of incredibly philanthropic-minded people. These people gave to the Auckland Art Gallery, Q Theatre and Waterfront Theatre builds. They give to the ballet, the opera, the theatre companies, dance companies, literary festivals, contemporary art awards, the Arts Foundation, writers' residences, scholarships and more. They are, as we used to say during my days in the arts, the good and the great of Auckland.

Many are incredibly wealthy and it would be easy to suggest it’s an obligation for them to give, but comb the Rich List and dig in a bit and you’ll find not everyone shares the same philanthropic values as these people do. The accumulation of great wealth isn’t necessarily a forerunner to great generosity. Dig into the names on gallery walls and programmes, and you’ll find great generosity and foundational support for the arts in this city. You’ll also find many of them are not getting any younger and have been carrying the can for a long time. If any of them read this, I hope they’ll forgive me for commenting on their ages for a good cause.

It’s been a long time between chardonnays when it comes to any public conversations in New Zealand about what philanthropy might look like when we are no longer blessed by their generous gifting and giving. There is much to discuss and yet, it appears as if discussion on this matter stopped a while ago, at a government level anyway.

What does arts philanthropy in New Zealand look like in the 21st century? How easy is it for people to give?

The last big conversation about this was in 2009 when then Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Hon Christopher Finlayson, established the Cultural Philanthropy Taskforce (CPT). The taskforce produced the report ‘Growing the Pie’ containing the following recommendations:

· develop a fundraising capability building initiative to mentor and advise cultural organisations on a one-to-one basis

· promote knowledge and awareness of the recently introduced tax incentives

· introduce Gift Aid to boost the return to institutions from private giving

· explore the workability of a cultural gifting scheme

· recognise and value the generosity of philanthropists

· reward with matched government funding cultural organisations that succeed in increasing their levels of income derived from private giving.

A three-year pilot run by Creative New Zealand followed to help mentor arts organisations. The evaluation is here, and it is also the last thing we’ve had from CNZ on this matter. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage reporting on giving dries up about the same time with the publication of the 2012 Giving and Sponsorship Survey in 2014.

It’s hard to know whether anything else has been implemented following the Growing the Pie report and the CPT. Gift aid and cultural gifting haven’t been. Gift Aid is a tax incentive in the UK. In the financial year 2014/5, Gift Aid to charities amounted to £1.19bn. Cultural gifting enables UK taxpayers to donate important works of art and other heritage objects to be held for the benefit of the public or the nation. In return, donors receive a tax reduction based on a set percentage of the value of the item they donate.

As far as I know matching government funding for organisations that succeed in increasing their levels of income derived from private giving hasn’t happened either. Perhaps it did and we never heard about it. Or perhaps none of the organisations matched their goals. A hunt for any further information proved a bit fruitless. The other recommendations would be difficult to track or see evidence of but if there has been progress in those areas, it’s not being shouted from the rooftops.

Perhaps it’s time we re-opened the conversation on this matter to ensure the legacy of the good and great carries on and is as lively and vibrant as the very sector they have supported for so long.

What does arts philanthropy in New Zealand look like in the 21st century? What has it looked like up until now? What will a new generation of philanthropists look like and how will the legacy of previous philanthropists be maintained? What are they looking for from this experience? The same as generations gone by or something different? How easy is it for people to give?

I left the arts sector six years ago to work at a bank, and at the time I vowed I would become a person who gave to the arts. I am happy to now be able to do that and talk about it. I’d be even happier if I found others to keep me company. In giving to the arts, yes, but right now I’d settle for just talking about how to ensure a new generation of philanthropically-minded people can pick up the baton.

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