The Case For Supporting Local Arts

Philanthropy and corporate sponsorship have been on my mind lately.

I wear several hats in my business life. I’m a features writer for a couple of local magazines, I’m the vice-chair of Newcastle Fringe Festival and I run my own freelance copywriting, marketing & publicity business specialising in creative industries, women-led businesses and agency work. This morning I had to interview a quite famous local identity and businessman whose generosity is perhaps not as well-known as it should be, for an article that I’m writing.

I found myself admiring his commitment to community and the fact that he was putting his money where his mouth was. As the person on the Newcastle Fringe board who heads up sponsorship development as well as marketing, I was wishing that it was kosher to ask him to support the fringe. But of course, that would have been completely inappropriate.

When it comes to the arts and funding, cultural organisations like the Newcastle Fringe only survive because a handful of volunteers work tirelessly all year writing government grant applications, trying to schmooze corporate sponsors and riding the knife edge of financial viability year on year. And quite frankly, we deserve better, as do so many other worthy arts organisations.

The funding model in this country is unfair, bureaucratic in the extreme and cliquey. If you’re not delivering outcomes that meet narrow government or corporate objectives there really is a very limited chance of success. Aside from that, Covid has had a massive impact. Firstly, the very nature of performing arts means that it was the first and the hardest hit by restrictions and the resulting lack of employment for so many arts practitioners, arts support workers, administrators, venues and casuals has the industry on its knees. Festivals like ours that are events based are taking a massive risk in planning to go ahead when we could so easily have to cancel.

But the risk of cancellation is not the only danger. There is also the possibility that corporate sponsors will not want to support events due to that risk of cancellation or the optics of supporting events when Covid is running rampant even if restrictions are lifted. One Community Engagement Manager I spoke to this week mentioned the moral responsibility factor – if hospital ICUs are full and we’re running arts events – is that the right thing to do?

We have to learn to live with Covid. That’s what’s happening all over the world. Newcastle Fringe Festival is held in March. By that time, we should be living with the virus, probably only allowing double vaxxed people into the venues with restricted capacity. It’s my job to convince corporate sponsors, philanthropists and government funding bodies that our community needs events like ours even in the face of the pandemic. Our event contributes to the wellbeing of our community on many different levels. Most notably it provides local artists with a platform to perform, earn some money and develop their craft – and they’re desperate for it. As a community it adds to the cultural fabric of our town, encourages people to go out, spend some money, have dinner, see a show and have a great time, opening their minds and connecting to each other – something we’ve all missed. It drives visitation. It benefits local businesses.

Running since 2016, Newcastle Fringe is a true grass roots level, fun and edgy festival. It’s not glossy or mainstream. It provides artists who haven’t yet made it, somewhere to develop. They are the artists and celebrities of the future. It is art for the sake of art, without the handicap of having to attract massive audiences. It’s a place for experimentation. It’s for people who like a bit of grunge, a good laugh, something sexy and non-traditional. It can be beautiful, profound, silly and offensive. It’s for artists who are brave enough to have a go.

Australia doesn’t have a philanthropic culture as America does. In the US, arts organisations are more likely to receive their funding from individuals than from government grants. Where are the people who want to give back to their community here in Newcastle? Or perhaps they are there but don’t see the Fringe Festival as being worthy of their support?

Earlier this year we were lucky enough to run the festival and it was a resounding success despite exceptionally bad weather (remember the rain bomb?). Artists earnt over $42,000 from that festival – a figure that we’re very proud of. We know we’ve made a difference in the lives of these artists at a time when they truly needed it.

So, I’m asking you – will you help us to do it again in 2022? Join with us to make performing arts happen for grass roots artists here in the Hunter. Message me to begin a conversation.

This post was written by Vice-Chair of the Newcastle Fringe Festival Board, Liane Morris