February 2, 2005

European museums look for corporate funding

Posted at 3:19 pm in British Museum

Across Europe, governments are cutting the budgets of Museums. Being entirely funded from government money or donations means that the British Museum is hit harder by this than many other institutions are.
However, it also open up the argument that the British Museum could potentially be better off it they returned the Parthenon Marbles. The Greek government has specifically offered in the past the possibility of regular temporary exhibitions at the British Museum if the Marbles were returned. These would include the latest finds from archaeological excavations, many of which have never been on public display before. The British Museum although it is generally free, does charge for temporary exhibitions, & in many ways these are what really draws in the visitors (people who have already been to the museum may well come again for a specific exhibition – to see something that was not there the last time they visited).


European Museums Go Corporate as Governments Cap Handouts
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg)

Every year, 1.5 million people marvel at Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” as they snake through room after Renaissance room of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.

That flow nearly stopped for good as the Italian government, in a budget-cutting drive, threatened last summer to slash the Culture Ministry’s operating costs by a quarter. The reaction was instant, and in house.

“You’re looking at a gradual shutdown of museums and archaeological sites,” Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani warned in the daily Corriere della Sera. “At this rate, we’ll have to consider closing part or all of the Uffizi.”

The minister’s warnings were heeded, but only just: the Culture Ministry’s operating budget was trimmed by 2.55 percent to 1.517 billion euros ($1.97 billion).

Europe’s flagship museums — the Uffizi, the Musee du Louvre in Paris, and the British Museum in London — are feeling the pinch. Thrifty governments facing European Union deficit limits are capping cultural handouts and compelling museums to make money on the side by seeking sponsors, hiring out halls and selling snacks and knickknacks.

As a result, even as museums draw record crowds — the Louvre hosted 6 million visitors last year, half the turnout at EuroDisney, Europe’s largest theme park — they increasingly rely on sponsors. To put on shows, fund new wings and restore crumbling galleries, museums get help from the likes of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, the world’s largest luxury-goods company; and BP Plc and Total SA, Europe’s largest and third-largest oil companies; as well as national lotteries.

Spoils of War

Making money never used to be the point. From their dawn in the late 18th century, Europe’s museums were deluxe showcases for a nation’s heritage, symbols of imperial glory and reach.

Their contents often consisted of royal collections, looted on foreign jaunts. Napoleon Bonaparte seized untold quantities of Italian art to make the just-born Louvre the world’s greatest museum. Though much was returned, leftovers include Paolo Veronese’s wall-size “The Wedding Feast at Cana” and the Louvre’s only Giotto, “St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata.”

The British Museum, founded in 1753 to promote universal understanding, houses the Rosetta stone, taken from a defeated Napoleon, and the so-called Elgin marbles, removed from the Parthenon between 1801 and 1810 by the eponymous English earl.

Today, EU governments, particularly those using the euro, face fines if their deficits overshoot set limits. The emphasis is on restraint, not opulence. Governments are willing to cover museums’ core operational costs; extras must be self-funded.

Mixed Funding

“A mixture of private and public funding is the reality of the future: Museums have to learn to live with this,” says Julian Spalding, an author on museums and the arts who once headed Scotland’s Glasgow Museum. “The good thing is museums are going to be more in control of setting the agenda of what they do.”

A less desirable consequence could be that museums may relinquish their role as cultural pioneers and opt for the familiar. “Sponsors like to be associated with success,” says Spalding. “They will push the museum into putting on projects that are safe, comfortable, non-threatening and non-challenging.”

Among European countries, museums fare best in France, where about 1 percent of the national budget is spent on culture each year, and this year’s package is up 5.9 percent — three times inflation — at 2.79 billion euros.

“In France, state intervention is predominant in cultural institutions,” says Bernard Notari, 49, the Culture Ministry adviser on museums and heritage. “We still live in a system that is fundamentally monarchical.”

A tall cabinet adviser with an unruly gray fringe, Notari works in a small office doors away from the minister’s chambers in the 18th-century building.

Marching Orders

At the same time, France, which has breached EU budget- deficit rules for three years, is moving toward a hybrid system whereby museum chiefs are thinking as corporate executives would.

Those institutions that earn money — the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the palace of Versailles and the Musee Guimet — can run themselves, though not unconditionally: “Like in the U.S., we tell the management: You have a five-year mandate to get things done. Otherwise, in five years, we’ll bring in another management team,” says Notari.

At the Reunion des Musees Nationaux, the body that runs non- self-governing museums, Communications Director Alain Madeleine- Perdrillat confirms the corporate trend. “The Culture Ministry, which doesn’t have a fortune to spend on museums and exhibitions, is pushing us to look for big-company sponsors,” he says.

Foremost among France’s self-run institutions is the Louvre, where 33 percent of funding is non-governmental — from merchandising, space rental, commissions on shops and eateries, and ticket sales, according to Deputy Director Didier Selles. That’s up from 29 percent in 2002.

Total’s Plaque

The result is an institution that seems to enjoy the best of both worlds, as exemplified by the just-restored Apollo Gallery, where the French crown jewels glint in encasements beneath a ceiling fresco by Eugene Delacroix. The hall was resuscitated mainly with cash from Total. Yet the Total plaque in faded gold letters next to the entrance is barely noticeable.

Total now plans to spend another 4 million euros, according to Selles, on the 50-million-euro expansion of the Louvre’s Islamic wing, a project spearheaded by President Jacques Chirac. “We will be in the lineup, clearly,” says Yves Le Goff, Total’s director of communications and sponsorship adviser, whose office features a photograph of the presidential couple. “This shows that a company such as Total is loyal, and that its patronage is not a one-off.”

Not that corporations will ever become the Louvre’s main financiers. “The Louvre is a public institution, a public service, and must be financed chiefly and in its core operations by the state,” says Selles, whose office features a side view of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid and a constantly ringing phone. “At the same time, corporate patronage is a very powerful tool with which to make certain projects happen.”

Betting on Culture

At the other extreme is Italy, where government funding of culture is at risk. The birthplace of Michelangelo and Raphael spends only 0.17 percent of its gross domestic product on culture, less than two-tenths of the French ratio, according to Italian Culture Ministry statistics. Heaving under the world’s third- highest debt mountain, Italy is using lottery money and levies on highway investment to restore its cultural heritage.

Since 1996 — and a second weekly draw — an average of 155 million euros a year in lottery money, less than a third of the total intake, go to culture. The practice originated in 1732; one 18th-century recipient was Rome’s Trevi fountain, which Anita Ekberg famously splashed across in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film “La Dolce Vita.”

More recently, Nero’s Roman villa and Giotto’s frescoes in Padua were restored with cash from a 1998-to-2000 package of 445 million euros. Another 516-million-euro package awarded between 2001 and 2003 helped scrub Rome’s Victor Emmanuel monument, the city’s wedding-cake architectural landmark.

With a record 10 billion euros in Lotto takings last year, the state has set aside 332 million euros for art restoration and another 113 million euros for film and the performing arts between now and 2006.

Companies that finance Italy’s road and highway projects are also helping to rescue its heritage via ARCUS SpA, a specially created vehicle that absorbs 3 percent of those funds. Already, 57 million euros have been spent on art restoration and the performing arts by the company.

Foundation Uffizi?

Eventually, the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who faces re-election in 2006, wants all major museums — including the Uffizi — to be run by non-profit foundations, according to a Culture Ministry spokesman.

So far, the Florence flagship has been spared. Unlike the Louvre or the British Museum, which had costly revamps, Italy’s most-visited museum seems stuck in a time warp. Tourists shuffle through a 16th-century portico to reach its single entry point, and up a steep staircase to view the galleries.

A corner doorway leads to the office of Antonio Paolucci, superintendent of Tuscany’s artistic and historical heritage, and chief of Florence’s museums. The former culture minister, 65, sits at an antique desk crowded with books; behind him are flags and a portrait of the whiskered count who first held the job.

Michelangelo Parties

“I’m very skeptical about these scenarios,” says the scholarly Paolucci, referring to foundations. “A private operator will obviously look to make a profit — make children or old people pay, halve the security staff, double ticket prices, or use the galleries for graduation parties and weddings.”

Paolucci blends an ardent defense of public arts funding with pride in his native Italy’s heritage. “There are areas of public life — culture, education, health — that, in a civilized country, must always be in the red,” he says. “Culture is the only area in which we Italians still dominate: We may have lost everything else, but we will always have Michelangelo and Botticelli.”

The Uffizi is about to get a revamp of its own — funded by government — that will, by 2006, double display areas to 13,000 square meters and hang long hidden paintings on the first floor, where the Florence archives were once kept. Visitors will circulate better via multiple access points, and the restaurant, shop and restroom areas will be enlarged and modernized.

Foundations are already taking over elsewhere in Italy. The first is being created at Turin’s famed Egyptian Museum, and headed by Alain Elkann, a journalist and Culture Ministry adviser whose sons are the possible heirs apparent at Turin-based carmaker Fiat SpA.

`Necessary Virtue’

Elkann, formerly married to a daughter of the late Giovanni Agnelli, who had been honorary chairman of Fiat, dismisses charges that the museum is being privatized. “There is nothing wrong in any of this: Italy’s heritage is not in danger,” says the nattily dressed author from his part-time office at the Culture Ministry’s Renaissance-era palazzo in Rome. “The treasures of the Egyptian museum will still belong to the Italian state.”

“These foundations are a necessary virtue,” he adds. “By combining state and private funding, they will have more means to conduct the necessary renovation that would otherwise be impossible with such a tiny ratio of GDP devoted to culture.”

Spalding agrees that the Turin foundation is not a danger. Turin’s is “one of the worst museums in the world: the collections are in a very bad state, and have been disintegrating, because the museum has never been a priority in Italy,” he says.

Unlike their Italian counterparts, U.K. museums have longstanding corporate ties. “The British have historically been extremely bad at government funding of the arts — always worse under Conservative governments than Labour governments,” says Wendy Stephenson, managing director of Sponsorship Consulting Ltd., with clients including BP, Unilever and Morgan Stanley.

`Bums on Seats’

“Arts institutions have for the past 25 years had to go out and find alternative sources of income: bums on seats, or ticket sales; advertising; shops,” she says.

Between 1996 and 1998, U.K. government spending on museums and galleries consistently shrank, reaching a low point of 224 million pounds ($428 million) in 1998. Since then, it has increased incrementally each year.

Though the British Museum got a 100-million-pound makeover in 2000, partly funded by the Lottery, a flood of new, non-paying visitors, new rooms and staff shortages sparked its worst cash crisis ever in 2002. The budget was cut by about 6.5 million pounds, rooms were closed, staff went on strike, and a study- center project was scrapped.

Today, the museum has “a very good balance sheet,” boasts Deputy Director Dawn Austwick, a former management consultant at KPMG (now BearingPoint Inc.) Still, she cautions, “I think it’s going to be a very tough environment: government funding is going to be tight … That means we have to be ever watchful about how we spend our money.”

Art Manager

Austwick, 44, who has imported the management consultant’s mindset into the 250-year-old museum, says in a telephone interview she aims to boost “spends-per-head” in retailing and catering, and lure sponsors, trusts, foundations and “high net- worth individuals.”

Companies pay 25,000 pounds a year to entertain and show staff around the museum. “Conversations” with business leaders on site allow the museum “to engage the business community.”

“What we’re really looking to do,” Austwick explains, “is increase the size of the cake — the increase coming, on the whole, from non-governmental sources.”

Last Updated: February 1, 2005 21:49 EST

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