Socially Investing in the Arts
The Trust's Nigel McKinney (right) with Arts & Business NI's Mary Trainor-Nagele at the start of the research project.

Socially Investing in the Arts

22 November 2016

The Trust and Arts & Business NI (A&B NI) are delighted that the report, ‘Socially Investing in the Arts’ has now been published.

Small Change (NI) Ltd was commissioned by Building Change Trust, in partnership with Arts & Business NI, to deliver the project. The research examined the funding and financing of not for profit arts organisations in Northern Ireland and how access to non-grant finance, and in particular social investment, might help arts organisations generate more of their own income and become financially resilient. 

The report highlights the financial fragility of arts and cultural sector and the impact of this in regard to organisational stability, fundraising capacity and long term development and growth.

It cites the appetite within the sector to continue to explore new funding streams but notes that loan finance is only an option for organisations that can generate adequate and reliable revenue to cover repayments.

The report recommends a funding ecology that supports financial stability and longer term resilience of the arts and cultural sector. It also recommends that a specific Arts capacity building investment scheme is needed to support arts organisations to grow their strategic financial management skills and to develop new initiatives to generate new income.

It was recommended that this should also include an ‘incubator’ which supports organisations through the progressive stages of development of new commercial ventures from prototyping to launch. It notes that organisations developing robust and viable plans for generating income would need financial support to make it a reality; this may be in form of seed corn grants or small loans to help explore the feasibility of and undertake development work on proposed new ventures or to develop plans to generate additional income from existing activities. 

Building Change Trust Chair Bill Osborne said: “At Building Change Trust we believe that the arts matter to Northern Ireland, that they enrich the lives of all of our people.

“However, if that enrichment has a value, it also has a cost; the not for profit arts sector is acutely aware, perhaps more than any other part of the wider VCSE sector,  of the challenge of reduced and constrained funding.

“Given the centrality of the arts to our lives and the funding challenges emerging, we wished to make a practical contribution to the sector’s future development and have been very pleased to partner with Arts and Business Northern Ireland to commission and finance this research looking at social investment in the arts.

‘’We believe this research will help uncover the potential of social investment to finance the activity of arts and cultural sector in Northern Ireland’’.

In response to the report Dr Joanne Stuart OBE, Chair of Arts & Business NI commented: “We appreciate the Trust’s generous support in funding this project as working with the sector on entrepreneurial approaches to income generation is an important aspect of our work.

"Social finance is never going to be the silver bullet for the Arts in regard to an income source but, in the context of a changing operating environment and a broad funding ecology, we wanted to test the opportunity and the potential it might present.

"There is a real imperative for us all to look at how we work together to secure the future of a strong and culturally rich Northern Ireland. If we want to live in a society where excellent Art is accessible to all, then there will always need to be a mixture of public and private funding for the Arts. If the Arts are to build long term financial sustainability then they need a secure core infrastructure that will allow them to invest in strategic fundraising.

"Part of our objective in working with Building Change Trust to commission this research was to help inspire and excite the sector to see how opportunities such as social investment, augmented with other non-grant finance, might support them to create the environment and space to use profit to support artistic experimentation.

"The ability to raise finance, void of grant restrictions, can help organisations to look forward, to look up and to dream big, in a way that grant finance may currently not allow.

"A&B NI supports the findings and recommendations within this report. We commend Margaret Bolton, Niamh Goggin and their team, for the passion, expertise and insight that they brought to this project. They have clearly captured the essence of the issues within the Arts funding landscape and ecology; this reflects what we hear and observe in our daily work with our Arts partners.

"We would like to thank everyone who engaged and contributed to this research. We are also grateful to our steering group for their advice and guidance throughout the process. 

"A&B NI looks forward to working with Building Change Trust, funders and our Arts and private sector partners to respond to this report and map out how we can help the Arts to navigate the pathway to increased commercial entrepreneurship, in a way that doesn’t jeopardise or compromise artistic integrity, supports artistic practice and sustains growth". 

Click on the following links to download an Executive Summary and the Full Report