News & Insight
10th February 2021
Arts Beyond Covid – Positively Creative
By Liz Purchase, Senior Consultant Arts and Heritage – Philanthropy Company
Our Fearless Fundraisers online event ‘Arts Beyond Covid’ on the 2nd February was a great opportunity for attendees to gain insight from brilliant and highly experienced panellists. Our Chief Executive Caroline Underwood chaired an enlightening, in-depth discussion with seasoned development professionals Kate Bierman of Theatres Trust, Diana Spiegelberg, Somerset House, and Galina Wilkinson, Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. We were delighted that it sold out, but not surprised by the demand; food for thought from leaders in the field is always welcome, but more so than ever after such an unprecedented year.
A common thread throughout the discussion was the adeptness and natural capacity of creatives to solve problems. When business as usual shuddered to a standstill in spring 2020, the resourcefulness and ingenuity of arts professionals kicked in; live-streaming, COVID-secure rehearsals, digital performances and participation events, helped to provide some momentum and inspiration as the year continued. It followed that development departments also rose to the challenges of a socially distanced world; they dug deep and forged ahead with fundraising through online cultivation events and digital engagement. And, as our panel agreed, the hard won ‘soft skills’ that experienced fundraisers have in spades – empathy, social awareness, assertiveness, integrity – proved indispensable.
We heard how in the face of the storm, fundraising opportunities emerged; donors became accessible in ways not imagined before (a Zoom meeting with HNWIs anyone?!), cases for support more compelling, and outstanding generosity from major trusts like the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation. We also heard how the loyalty of long-term donors held fast. For Rambert School it meant a very successful response to the hardship fund for students, and for the Theatres Trust an exceptional response to the Save Our Theatres crowdfunder – over £1.5 million raised for 80 theatres.
Problems or opportunities?
Despite the ongoing challenges in the arts, our panel shared thoughts on a brighter future. The temporary solutions to reaching audiences and supporters during lockdown, could actually prove to be permanent. The problems of low engagement and the need to reach diverse audiences – key concerns even before the pandemic hit – can be solved in part by a new world of digital possibility. The doors that have been opened to new audiences could actually be game-changers, not just short term add-ons. We heard how Somerset House saw a jump from 800 to 80,000 in the number of young people engaging with their digital programmes in 2020; and the Rambert School sees the positive aspects of digital learning being adopted long term to maintain its reputation as a centre of excellence.
It was so encouraging for our Arts Beyond Covid audience (also made up of fundraising professionals in the cultural sector) that panellists were able to openly share their experiences of one of the most challenging times the arts has seen. As we expected, the quality of questions to the panel was high and drew out insight which, as feedback showed, helped attendees feel more confident about their own responses to the pandemic. Hearing others stories is so important in building confidence.
And talking of confidence, as the vaccine is rolled out at a pace in the UK, there are glimmers of hope for our arts sector. Orchestras, dance and music schools, performing and visual arts, all hit hard by the pandemic, are starting to plan activity again. With the roll out slower in other countries, a faster return to full houses and live events could be the fillip the UK needs, as other challenges to recovery and economic output emerge.
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