The state of patronage

  • financing
  • national institutions

On April 30, Platform BK together with Framer Framed organized the symposium The State of Patronage, which discussed the developments surrounding patronage in the Netherlands. Renée Steenbergen gave an introductory lecture on the history of patronage and the panels that followed discussed various forms of patronage, its role within the sector and the practical side: how do we, as a sector, continue with patronage. It turned out not to be an easy topic; it raises many questions in these times of public-private shifts in the art sector.

The purpose of the symposium was to gain a better understanding of patronage in the sector and what the roles and power relations are in it, but also to gain practical insights on pitfalls of patronage and how to deal with them. Below we describe some parts of the symposium, the whole you can see on the website of Platform BK.

History of patronage

Whereas corporate funds once played an important role in patronage, a shift has now taken place toward a major role for private money in the cultural sector. Patronage has many sides; it includes individual gifts, giving circles, individual wealth funds as well as public-private partnerships. Thus, at many museums and other large cultural institutions, patronage, fundraising, and grantraising have become more than a full-time job.

For patronage to succeed, it is important that the government is a reliable partner for private parties and that it ensures the continuity of basic funding for art. Also important is a clear division of roles between public and private financial flows, as well as the degree and manner of influence of the latter on art policy. The recent development of large individual asset funds such as the Van den Ende Foundation and Droom en Daad is striking. Many of these wealth funds tend to focus primarily on their own mission rather than being a point of contact for makers and institutions. The entrepreneur himself acquires a great deal of influence over the national arts scene through the fund, and this goes beyond the democratic process. Asset funds have become a significant force in the art world.

At many museums and other major cultural institutions, patronage, fundraising, and grantmaking have become more than a full-time job.

From access to patronage, creators benefit the least, equity funds hardly fill that gap, while at the same time it is increasingly a subsidy condition for creators to bring in private money. Reducing subsidy and increasing private funding could lead to a form of depoliticization in the sector. What would it mean for the democratic content of the sector? Steenbergen talks about the problem of elitism: some groups feel less welcome and this can have repercussions on the dissemination of culture. And what about art washing? As creators or institutions, do we also want the wrong money?

From access to patronage, creators benefit the least

The big question for Steenbergen is how we can develop forms of cooperation between government, private donors, wealth funds, art organizations and artists, a cooperation that advocates a clear and balanced role and strives for equality and solidarity. A more sustainable art climate with balanced funding is necessary if patronage is to play an important, balanced role in the sector, says Steenbergen.

Relationships and giving

In all forms of patronage, relationship management is very important, and the question is whether that is feasible for an individual creator. In the case of crowdfunding, for example, artists often have to deliver far too much for what they receive. Fortunately, there has been a recent shift among donors from "project thinking" to supporting the creator. It would be nice if patronage were more about generosity than giving money, for example by exchanging or making space available. Large givers often take a lot of time and often provide organizations with relatively little return. It would therefore be good if large donors could give through the tax system, rather than setting up their own fund from which much influence is exerted on the sector. Local often plays an important role among donors, but the Dutch art market has also become somewhat more international in terms of patronage in recent years. As an example, the platform Patreon ( mentioned that is also used in the Netherlands. 

Caution should be exercised 

What about conflicts of interest and is the use of private money by public institutions the same as the use of public money? Often the relationships givers-receivers are not clear and not explicit. Moreover, the impact of patronage on equality or inequality, which are pursued in the various codes and from national public policies, is unclear. Liesbeth Bik puts it this way: "Systematically society, in other words we, determine what we consider important and what you can count on as a citizen as a minimum and what is necessary for that. (...) Art doesn't change society, people do, but art shows other perspectives through which opinions and ideas change - multiple perspectives, therefore more options, more possibilities, more transparency. We cannot leave this solely to private parties who shape the public domain, our society, on the basis of their own private choices or interests."
It is therefore important to look closely and critically at patronage and its influence.

"The 'financialization' of culture and of society has gone very far, and the way in which state and citizen relate to each other has changed." (Nous Faes)

Nous Faes points out that the government has become increasingly distant in the last forty years. This has got us into trouble: the 'financialization' of culture and society has gone very far and the way in which state and citizen relate to each other has changed; the government has started to expect more and more from the citizen. This has put a lot of pressure on the cultural sector. Faes also sees that patronage has not meant very much for small makers and small institutions: "You are competing with each other to get money and it takes an excessive amount of energy." 

Making each other stronger 

The subsidy system as it stands now encourages competition between them. The willingness to cooperate more should be stimulated. What was marketed as 'cultural entrepreneurship' has turned out to be extremely inefficient. Institutions are constantly scrambling to raise money and do not get around to content. Broad basic funding from the government would be good for the sector, but it is still not enough. Yet there are also opportunities in the equity funds: they do not interfere so much with the content and are gradually becoming more sensitive to social conversations. For the sector, it is important to learn to deal with different forms of funding; adapting to the new situation is important, after all, we are not going back to the old model. Creating opportunities and places is perhaps even more important than money, but is heavily dependent on municipal politics. Art institutions could work even more as intermediaries between givers and makers, after all it is not easy for an individual maker to meet a giver and then also ask the question about giving. 

Participants and speakers at the symposium were: Liesbeth Bik (artist, Academy of Arts), Helleke van den Braber (Utrecht University), Kristel Casander (Voordekunst), Nous Faes (sociologist and policy advisor), Yvonne Franquinet (AFK), Roel Griffioen (researcher), Marjolein de Groen (Collection DE.GREEN), Sofia Patat (Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), Shailoh Phillips (researcher and teacher), Stephanie Schuitemaker (Outset), patronage expert Renée Steenbergen, Steven van Teeseling (Sonsbeek & State of Fashion), Olav Velthuis (University of Amsterdam) and Ying Que (anthropologist and organizer). 

The aforementioned article by Renée Steenbergen The state of patronage can be found, as well as the recording of the entire symposium, at 

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