congress / reading room

The Need for Nemawashi

Interview with Julia Rowntree

On relations between business and art and cultural fundraising - an interview with Julia Rowntree.

How did it happen that you have started to work with theatre?

I did a French degree and arts degree at University and eventually I got a job in an animation company. I made animated films for ten years as a producer. We made feature films and commercials for television, so for the commercials, I was used to making a translation between artists and the needs of the commercial world. I knew Rose and Lucy [Rose de Wend Fenton, Lucy Neal – ed.] who set up London International Festival of Theatre[LIFT]. I’d known Lucy since she was fourteen and I was a little bit older. I loved what they were doing. When I went on holiday they used to do my job. They told me that’s where they learned how to do invoicing etc. I used to give them some advice. Then in 1986 I was very exhausted by working for the film company. I was fed up with doing just commercials. I’d seen what Rose and Lucy were doing, and I’d saved up enough money to have six months doing nothing, just thinking about what I wanted to do next, so I went to work with them to set up their sponsorship and begin to think how is LIFT going to do this. Originally my work at the Festival was for three months, and then just gradually we got a little bit more money to pay for me. So that’s how I started working with them, but I actually stayed twenty years.

Do you think that thinking about sponsoring arts in a kind of marketing way as selling a product came from that experience? This is where such point of view started?

I wouldn’t say it started there, but I had some expertise in enabling the two worlds to talk to one another, but it was much more a general thing in the culture and economy, so it wasn’t just me initiating this. It was more a general logic in the whole field of culture in the UK. We weren’t the only organisation doing that.

In Poland it seems almost revolutionary that you would think of getting a sponsor as if you were trying to gain a client. Going to him trying to sell something instead of asking for money.

This is exactly the approach. At the beginning of course it wasn’t like going to a company as if you were a graphic designer offering a service. It was unusual for us too. But as this relationship evolved and greater understanding on both sides grew, a language did evolve through which you could speak about it. It’s true to say that one can’t do it alone. One can’t change the psychology alone. I think there are some structural things and a culture shift at a national level that can foster a greater understanding about sponsorship of the arts in Poland as a whole. For example LIFT was in touch with an organisation called the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts and this was very useful in lobbying government to come up with for example a scheme for encouraging business sponsors of the arts but also in setting the norms and the standards of sponsorship more generally. So that it’s unacceptable in UK terms in the arts to have a logo anywhere near the theatre or concert stage. ABSA helped to set boundaries. Even so, when you were speaking to a sponsor, you were on your own in any particular relationship.

This partly answers the question “What can art learn from business?”. Could you elaborate on what else can the business world learn from the arts?

There’s a lot, but I think it’s very easy to forget that a business, just like a public sector organisation or any arts organisation has a role and a purpose, but it is also a community of humans trying to do something together. What I should emphasize is that art can help build a community of humans. If human beings trust one another, then it is easier to do whatever you have to do. The arts speak to people as human beings. You can’t go as a representative of this or that company to respond to an amazing piece of theatre, amazing painting, or a piece of music. You can only respond as a human being.  And a shared experience of the arts can help build communication and trust.

It seems like it’s not about money anymore, but introducing a certain philosophy, and the responsibility is on the arts people side.

There are two things. Before public funding, the arts always had to find patrons, unless it was folk art that was created by people spontaneously. The need for art to look for money means that you have somebody making connections with people in power. In terms of our theatre traditions it is a real tradition in our culture, that theatre brings people together across class, financial background, and it has a role in speaking truth to power. So, what if the person in society who is responsible for making connections with people in power to help them resource this social dynamic that brings people together is in fact a fundraiser. In human adaptation terms there is a traditional role for this person to play in an anthropological sense regardless of professional definition, but as a dimension of human adaptation. I find it very very interesting indeed to think of that role not primarily as looking for money, but as “OK- looking-for-money”, but actually fulfilling an ancient social role of enabling those in power to resource cultural adaptation and illumination of many other people, including themselves.

The other thing to add is something from Hegel, the philosopher. I’m no great scholar, but I was absolutely riveted to read a piece of Hegel that talks about the master-servant relationship. If you think of the master as the person with the money, and the servant as being the person looking for the money, it’s only the servant that can change that relationship by engaging noncompetitively with the master and changing not only his own behaviour but that of the master too. Because, if the master says “change your behaviour,” it’s still the same relationship. So it’s a deep human thing to assume one doesn’t have power, but actually you do have power. It’s a very problematic thing to say in cultures like South Africa with Apartheid, where people are repressed, because of the colour of their skin, but you could maybe say that Nelson Mandela did take that kind of approach. For me it was a moment of insight. For me what forms the way I think of that role is two things: the Hegel piece and an idea of that ancient anthropological role. If you get your ideas from the beauty and connect to the right people at the right time the choreography of fundraising changes. You move from a position of supplicant directly facing a potential donor to walking together side by side with a compelling idea in prospect and suddenly someone puts their hand in their pocket and hardly notices when they give you the money. Because what you’re saying is so compelling. You do need to do a lot of nemawashi though to get a line up of people with a level of trust where you can have those kinds of conversations.

An art of sponsoring.

It has to have integrity.

Interview by: Agnieszka Berlińska and Agnieszka Słodownik


Published in issue 5. of