The business of art: Economically important but financially unstable

With the closure of theatres and museums during the Covid-19 pandemic, it hit us: culture is of great value, also economically. But even after corona, the financial obstacles remain important. In Flanders, subsidies for arts were reduced and therefore other sources of money are being explored. By now, everybody is convinced that culture has to be organised professionally.

It’s impossible to define what can be called art. It’s also impossible to define what the ‘cultural sector’ is. In a 2018 study, twelve ‘cultural and creative sectors’ were identified in Flanders, ranging from architecture to PR. This study found nearly 9.000 full-time jobs in performing arts, more than 10.000 in music and nearly 8.000 in visual arts. The ‘creative sector’ as a whole is booming, with growth figures which exceed the average of the Flemish economy.

In recent months, there has been a heated debate in Flanders about a reduction of the total subsidies for arts, a reduction that was later partly reversed. However, subsidies remain a crucial pillar in the production of ‘cultural products’.

“Culture is a passion, but cultural workers and cultural organisations have to be able to pay their bills. They need to know how they will live off of their work.”

To help people and organisations in the world of art, the Flemish authorities subsidise an organisation which helps with the financial, entrepreneurial and juridical aspects of culture: Cultuurloket (Culture Office). Everone working and entrepreneuring ​ in culture in Flanders can get information and advice on finances, administrative obligations, financing, taxes… for free, says Annemie Verlinden of Cultuurloket.

She sees a growing need for this service. “Culture is a passion, but cultural workers and cultural organisations have to be able to pay their bills. They need to know how they will live off of their work.” The sector needs a more professional approach on the business side of things, also because of a lack of subsidies and other money.

Besides subsidies, artists can look for different sources of money: their own income, all sorts of gifts, a loan, the tax shelter (a Belgian tax advantage for investors in art), … Everyone has to work on their own mix of financing.

Another good way of financing is sponsoring. While the artist/organisation doesn’t have to give anything in return for receiving a gift, a sponsor deal is a two-way-street. This is often a problem. Artists are afraid to lose their integrity, or selling their soul to the devil. Verlinden says understanding one another is crucial: both parties (the artists and the companies wanting to sponsor) have to make clear what their goals are and how those can be combined. “Therefore, it’s better to talk about a partnership than about sponsoring”, Verlinden says. Finding such a partner, with added value for both parties, demands time and networking.

Thinking about other, innovative ways to finance a project or organization demands an entrepreneurial way of thinking. It requires all parties involved to listen to their common needs and develop something better. By expressing these needs, a great new cooperation might occur.

On October 27, Cultuurloket offers a one-day-training session on how to find money for your work in the cultural sector. Cultuurzaken: duurzame fondsenwerving voor cultuurorganisaties | Cultuurloket

This article is the first of a 3-part series on art and money.





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