‘We can’t be the tail wagging the Tate dog’: Inside EY’s new sponsorship deal

‘Good business is the best art,’ said Andy Warhol (of course). So what are we to make of the announcement this week that EY (formerly Ernst & Young) are sponsoring Tate for three years? The best art seems to depend quite heavily on good business these days.

The announcement of the partnership the very moment after EY announced its rebranding is surely not coincidental, and Martin Cook, EY’s UK & Ireland commercial managing partner, stressed to me their ‘common set of values about entrepreneurship, making things accessible to people from all sorts of backgrounds’. ‘The Tate is ambitious and is going places,’ as are, we should assume, EY.

Cook was quick to bat away any suggestion that patronage meant power of approval for exhibitions: ‘We can’t be the tail wagging the Tate dog,’ he said, but ‘we’ll have some choice about which exhibitions we put our name to.’ Art needed to be controversial and engaging, and EY would stand behind that: ‘I don’t think there’s a role for us in being immensely boring.’ Cook himself likes Matisse, the Post-Impressionists and Dali, ‘but not the late stuff he tossed off’.

Paul Klee's Fire at Full Moon
Paul Klee’s Fire at Full Moon

The first of three EY-sponsored major exhibitions will be this October’s Paul Klee: Making Visible at Tate Modern (Klee’s Fire at Full Moon pictured above), but they will also support shows at Tate Britain, as well as corporate memberships at Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives.

Holes in the budget

Tate has no shortage of corporate sponsors (Citi, Diageo, MasterCard, plenty of other banks and law firms) and according to its balance sheet took in £20.5 million in corporate and personal philanthropy in 2011/12, but there has been rather a void since UBS pulled out in 2010. EY will no doubt help to fill it, as well as offering strategic support.

The other major funding gap which has appeared in Tate’s balance sheet came when the government – through Arts Council England – cut its grant (along with all other institutions’) by 15 per cent in 2011 and a further 5 per cent for 2015/16.

Cook didn’t seem – or didn’t want to seem – like he was criticising the government: ‘I know there’s an association between this spending review and what will happen to Tate and other museums and galleries around the country, but in thinking about this partnership we weren’t thinking about whether we’re stepping up to fill in the gap.’

Corporate support for the arts has remained steady over the past couple of years, according to charity Arts & Business: in 2011/12, it was £113.8 million, up £200,000 on the previous year. However, this is a mere 4 per cent of the total arts budget in the UK and would need to increase by £16 million to make up for the latest round of cuts.

There was one small hiccup in the EY relaunch: it turns out that if you search in Google Images for ‘EY’, it brings up pictures of semi-naked men. (Not that I’m complaining.) EY were perhaps expecting to see more male nudes through their Tate partnership than their rebranding, but Cook took it lightly: ‘If we’re feeling humorous, it’s just another sign of our commitment to diversity.’

First published here

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