His turn of phrase is interesting, if innocent. A look at the list of Australian billionaires reveals that the majority are - if not casting iron exactly - certainly engaged in mining or construction. Digging holes and building towers, I would suggest, tend not to be the occupations of aesthetes and art lovers.
Much of the rest of McDonald's article relates to corporate rather than individual support for art. However, it is his suggestion that the rich should support the arts, or anything else that concerns me. I agree that it would be nice if there were more support for the arts. Equally, I believe it is important that we do what we can to encourage philanthropy of any kind from the wealthy and not so wealthy more generally. However, there is a another side to this equation. That is the side of the beneficiaries of philanthropy - whether they be the arts and artists, or other sections of our civil society.
The responsibility of those of us who work for civil society is to enter into a positive dialogue with the wealthy and make the case that we are worthy of support. McDonald makes these points in the final paragraphs of his piece. "Many donors, large and small, complain that they have been treated with rudeness or a lack of consideration," he says. "Sending out letters and starting campaigns will never do the trick."
Of course not. What we need to do is investigate and understand the minds of our potential patrons. The comment I made above about digging holes building towers was intended as a clue. To start with we need to identify whom the most likely supporters will be. What are their interests and what do they value?
Interests amongst the first and second and second generation that dominate the Australian very wealthy tend to remain close to the source of their wealth. Their preoccupation is with the industries from which their money has come and they hope will continue to come. Miners and builders tend not (generalization warning!) to be very interested in the arts.
However, some are philanthropic. Of the Aussie billionaire miners, Andrew Forrest gives generously to indigenous programs. Of the billionaire developers, Frank Lowy has given time and money to football. There are readily found clues in the background of each which point to these preferences. Their personal stories have been told again and again in the media.
The two billionaires whom McDonald specifically mentions as supporters of art are are Kerry Stokes (media) and Kerr Neilson (finance). Both are art collectors, the latter owns a gallery. In my view he unfairly overlooks the Pratts (Packaging) and Packers (Media and Gambling).
Both are billionaire families who have made substantial contributions to performing and visual arts over decades. In fact, he dismisses James Packer's $65 million commitment to the arts as "a sweetener" to a property development - Barangaroo - in which Packer has a substantial interest. This, though, is to overlook the history of involvement in the arts of other members of the Packer family.Family background has its influence on philanthropy. James Packer could have linked his sweetener to indigenous matters or to sport, either of which would have gained him brownie points with the government.
Philanthropic decisions are rarely made unilaterally. The Pratt family link to the arts can be discovered through the biography of its principal characters.
My point? We enlist the wealthy by identifying those who are most likely to share our values and beliefs, developing relationships with them and offering them opportunities to support our work where it most seems to match their own interest. In my view there is nothing to be gained by complaining about or hectoring those who may have other genuinely held values, beliefs and interests.
About the author: John is a development consultant for Massey University in New Zealand, an advisor in the not for profit sector and a social entrepreneur.
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