Meeting Date: 24 November 2009
Written by John Gallop
On November the 24th, the Real Time Club met at its normal venue, The National Liberal Club. The theme of the evening was "Why Should the ICT Industry Care About the Arts". Some 35 Members and Guests were in attendance.
Michael Mainelli, Chairman, opened the evening, welcomed new members and guests and introduced the speaker, Vernon Ellis.
After dinner Michael asked immediate past chairman Mark Holford, who had arranged the evening, to take over the proceedings. Mark introduced Vernon as past chairman of Accenture EMEA which gave him his roots firmly in technology. His current position, amongst many others, is Chairman of the English National Opera.
Vernon opened by noting that he had been told to be provocative, and so postulated why should ICT companies support the arts - especially when Opera is at the extreme risk end of the performing arts. After showing some material from recent ENO productions, he posed four questions:
On the first he stated that the point of all great art is to entertain, but also to challenge and illuminate. Opera is the best at doing that, combining many different art forms.
He claimed that opera has always had public subsidy. Even in the days of private subsidy by rulers of states in Europe, the money fundamentally came from the public purse. It was not until the post war period that support by government was seen as a "good thing" and led to the establishment of the Arts Council. A mark of a civilised society is that opera can survive - but it has to be subsidised. The UK is one of the leading countries in the world for performing arts, and the associated skills.
Funding of arts in the UK follows a mixed economy: 45% from government; 45% from tickets; and 10% from private trusts or corporations. The Arts Council distributes some œ350M per year, or 0.009% of all government expenditure. The level of public subsidy in other major European countries is higher, whereas it is much lower in the US, which is therefore suffering in the economic downturn.
Turning to the third question, Vernon noted that of the 10% funding from trusts etc., 17% of that is corporate sponsorship. Why should they do it? There were many reasons including corporate entertaining, mutual support, CSR and HR. An environment where arts can flourish is a measure of a "civilised society".
And on the final question, Vernon stated that technology companies are 12th in the list of industries supporting the arts. But creativity and usage of skills should be key as they are common across ICT and the arts. All performing arts are looking to the Web as a way of contacting new potential audiences, and in new ways of distribution. It was also used to involve larger audiences, and he cited the recent BBC "Sing Hallelujah" initiative as an example.
Mark Holford thanked Vernon for his provocative presentation, and invited questions and comments from the floor. The following contributions were made:
Finally, Mark thanked Vernon for provoking much discussion, and for his exposition of the relationship between the arts and society, and the role of the arts in promoting creativity.