The Jacksonville Symphony receives approximately $2 million in corporate support from First Coast businesses annually. It’s bucking national trends and growing all aspects of its business, including corporate support. Even contributed revenue has increased by double-digit percentages in each of the past two years. So, what’s the key? Where does art end and business begin? Is the symphony the only such local beneficiary? Is it particularly business savvy?
Arts organizations can connect with business in many ways. “There is strong support from businesses in the area that not only give monetary gifts to the symphony, museums and organizations such as that, but also by purchasing art and commissioning art for their corporate headquarters and areas where their employees are,” says Dr. Henry Rinne, dean of the College of Fine Arts at Jacksonville University. “For example, our faculty has a running display with a law firm in downtown Jacksonville. Each year they do a new exhibit and individuals sometimes purchase the work. We’re very thankful that we get that kind of support. If you go to places like Mayo Clinic and some of the other health-related facilities, you see art on display that has been purchased and they have supported local artists.” Rinne praises this as a positive trend. “I think businesses are aware that people like to see artwork in the spaces they either work in or are coming to visit. They like high-end visual art on the walls. There’s also the public art arena, whether it’s a mural on cityscape walls, or sculptures in parks and other spaces.”
Thinking outside the monetary when it comes to support opens more doors for business partnerships. “There are a lot of things corporations can do that go beyond just writing a check,” says Robert Arleigh White, principal at Robert Arleigh White and Associates. For example, he notes, the sharing of volunteers; the development of thematic programming that addresses a topic tied to an issue of common concern; or jointly reaching out to improve quality of life in the Jacksonville community.
“It is very beneficial for artists to have an understanding not just of business generally but of the business climate and of the business interests of a community in particular,” White says. His comment goes in part to the opportunities Rinne noted of art in corporate offices and public places. What is the current economic circumstance? What is appropriate to the space? What would inspire the audience?
Whether it’s fair to expect artists to be business savvy, however, should be considered. White notes, for example, that physicians or educators do not need to have business acumen to be successful in their professions. “The notion that an artist needs to perfect her craft and have developed a business sensibility is vaguely onerous,” he says. “Now, that said, I know that artists who have dynamic relationships with business partners and have that left-side brain are going to move farther, faster. I do know too, though, that artists use management representation to accomplish some of those same goals. So, there’s not really one kind of answer. One really dynamic example that comes to mind is Steve Williams, who is the principal at Harbinger Signs. Steve is obviously an artist of very high caliber, but he also runs a very successful business, and I think he understands the role of the business person in the arts community. He is so generous about creating opportunities for artists. It’s not a simple matter of the artist being a business person, but in a robust community there’s an opportunity for business to realize that artists have lots to bring to the table to put their message forward.”
Examples are the concepts of collaboration and accessibility. White comes from a theater background and uses it to illustrate. “It takes every different kind of person imaginable to contribute to a successful musical production. Bringing all these disparate people with unique capacities and single-minded vision around a single artistic purpose and expression is a really powerful thing. Looking at a team of artists and considering how best to feature each person in a successful, joyful way toward the dynamic outcome of a theater piece is remarkable. It’s very personal. I think it always engages the best in what’s human. I can’t imagine that businesses wouldn’t benefit from those kinds of exercises and activities.”
An organization called Cultural Fusion brings collaboration to the forefront on the First Coast in a way that’s rare among cities. It’s an alliance of more than fifty cultural and arts organizations whose mission is to advance collaborative projects and impact the entire Jacksonville community, business included, in a meaningful way. “I think Cultural Fusion was born out of a tremendous shift in leadership at the very top levels of cultural institutions in our city and everybody has been invited. Everybody can join in a very intentional way,” White says.