Who is Funding Your Art?
In the world of art, funding has always been a looming query and a point of concern as they depend heavily on private and corporate sources. It is therefore imperative that the artists and institutions scrutinize the contributing financial sources.
When Tate Modern refused to reveal its financial relation with the energy giant – BP, a group of people decided to flag it by performing an unscheduled tableau where they writhed beneath a huge square black colored cloth piece, taking inspiration from the event titled “Hidden Figures” at Malevich Exhibition, Tate Modern.
The fact that the institutions like Tate Modern, the British Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery have acted well within the law, or that BP has a generous and a longstanding relationship with the arts, has not deterred the protestors. These events are however only indicative of the bitterness held against a wide range of sponsorship that has become a significant part of this transient infrastructure of the world of art. For example the Sao Paulo Biennial did away with the Israeli embassy logo following complaints from artists and curators alike. In Gwangju, when the city’s government – the financial backer attempted to censor a work of art, President of Gwangju Biennial stepped down and a good number of prominent artists withdrew too.
Frieze Art Fair ran in trouble for its use of non-unionized labor, the labor conditions in Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island provoked the artists’ to threaten with a boycott of Guggenheim and the Louvre museums being built there.
Art and patronage have always been inseparable and it is not uncommon to have periodic spurts of outrage and protests. However, today the weight and extent of discontent is indicative of a fast approaching tipping point. In expressing their support to the artists, the curators mentioned to the Sao Paulo Biennial that the source of funding for all major cultural events should be scrutinized in detail. The curators also emphasized that the sources of cultural funding have a significant impact on curatorial and artistic narrative of the event, which should ideally be ‘independent’. Essentially the point in focus is that art is compromised if the source of money is unethical and the work will lose its integrity if it draws support from those that disseminate the problems.
With a dip in the government funding and more and more art institutions turning to private funding or finance, a certain loss of independence is to be expected. The sponsors would always prefer to be associated with the already popular names and are very particular about the names or brands they might be attached to.
The wonder however is the fact that most of these associations are kept in dark and not brought out in the open, which creates an element of mistrust and hampers reputation of the public institutions.
Today the moral compass of art institutions is always under scrutiny largely due to its exponential and unpredictable growth. With the emergence of new Biennials, art fairs, new museums and expansion of existing ones there are bound to be concerns about the terms and source of funding. In such a scenario it becomes imperative to maintain transparency as a protocol, not a guideline.