Pan-European Sponsorship

December 14, 1991

1992 is almost upon us, and with it the final year of the European Community’s efforts to harmonise the twelve nations into a Single Market. Transnational companies are starting to re-examine their community affairs programmes and arts sponsorship is the first area to feel the effects. This article examines the trends influencing change, and asks whether pan-European sponsorship really is the way of the future.

Common features

Even a cursory examination of community involvement across Europe reveals one common theme, standing out from the diversity of practice: corporate sponsorship of the arts is widespread everywhere, encouraged by government and arts organisations almost without exception. Of course there is diversity in European culture, and not all European countries have the same traditions and methods of business involvement in the arts. However there are similarities that exist in all European countries, including:

1) an appreciation of the arts as an ideal vehicle for corporate communication, especially across language barriers;

2) a general increase in plural funding of the arts throughout Europe, and therefore in sponsorship opportunities;

3) a shift of emphasis by companies towards more versatile and “socially aware” communications strategies based on incorporating the arts within environmental and/or community-based concerns; and

4) a new market orientation due to the Single Market with a corresponding sponsorship strategy.

Companies have always asked themselves: how should we contribute through the arts to the health and diversity of the communities where we operate, while meeting some of our corporate reputation objectives? Now these trends are leading companies to ask, in a cross border or pan-European context, new questions they do not have to ask in their national markets places: What are we as a company? Are we European, German or British? Do we remain decentralised in our communications policies (and budgets) or do we dictate new strategies from head office? Should we create a new European HQ, or give one already in existence more than just a co-ordination role?

Corporate identity

“Pan-European” sponsorship of the arts is a relatively new concept for the business world. In fact pan-European-ness as a notion is new. It is essential for a company, in the first instance, to be absolutely sure of what it wants to gain from the greater European market. In other words, it needs to have confronted and overcome the ‘existential’ questions – are we British, or European, or global?. Then it can start to address the issue of how to use arts sponsorship as part of a pan-European community involvement strategy and in support of a pan-European corporate identity.

Communication options

In simple terms, companies are approaching the communications side of the issue in four main ways:

first, by taking a scheme or project already in operation in one European country, and then replicating the concept to other countries, adapting it as necessary. Thus having established, say, an awards scheme for young playwrights in one country, with regional contests, national prizes, etc, a company could take the idea to its operating companies in other countries for them to apply in their own context;

second, by associating with a clearly visible European cultural group, examples of which include organisations like the European Community Baroque Orchestra, the European Community Youth Orchestra or the European Community Chamber Orchestra, as well as large events such as the European Cities of Culture, the European Film Festival, etc. It is symptomatic of the slow response by European companies in general that the two former orchestras have been sponsored respectively by Panasonic, a Japanese company, and Digital, an American one. Such associations clearly place a company at the heart of European culture (even if the groups themselves may not be everyone’s idea of what “European” culture is) and, perhaps more important, the company gains access to the centre of power and decision-taking within the EC;

third, by developing an artistic event for the “home” market and then travelling it around the continent, allowing the various offices of the company to benefit from the exposure and entertainment opportunities. This method is by far the most common and, although not usually conceived as European projects to begin with, they are normally sufficiently modified to suit a larger European audience. Companies feel that taking a national triumph “abroad” is good for them and their choice of countries is usually closely related to new market openings. For example, Elf Aquitaine is sponsoring the Norwegian painter Munch at the Mus‚e d’Orsay, after which it will travel to Norway where the group is heavily present. Of the various options, travelling art is usually safe. By contrast, opera suffers most from touring because of the extra costs incurred;

fourth, the least common method is by choosing an event/group on basis of quality, regardless of nationality: for example, a German company sponsoring an Italian ballet troupe to do a tour of five European countries. At the moment this is sounds ambitious, but in the long term, such commitment to the quality of the arts, rather than its geography, will reflect the self-confidence of a company’s judgement and its artistic integrity. American and Japanese companies are again in an advantageous position in that they are not hampered by national ties within Europe.

One example of an approximation to this fourth method is Visa, the international credit card organisation. It has awarded their official Olympic Artist for Britain, the photographer David Hiscock, a bursary and expenses paid trip to the Barcelona Olympic Games, with studio and exhibition facilities provided. His brief is to produce a series of Olympic-inspired works ‘on the track’. This concept is being applied in France, Germany, Spain and the Soviet Union, with similar bursaries being awarded to artists from those countries.

Case study

One example of an openly declared European company is Fiat. Their cultural policy is to seek the highest quality, rather than national identity. They have focused their attention on one medium, the visual arts, and have restored the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, as the centre-piece of their activities. Here they conceive, research and realise exhibitions of importance to the whole of Europe. For example, their latest exhibition (March 22 to December 8 1991) is entitled “The Celts: the Origins of Europe”. This seeks to trace the origins of all European cultures, past the Roman and Christian sources, into the roots of Celtic Heritage.

In order to accomplish an integrated European corporate policy, Fiat’s management has been restructured. The essential decisions are taken in Turin and national companies, some of which do not operate under the Fiat name, contribute part fund programmes, participating if they wish. Cultural sponsorship is seen very much as part of business operations.


However, Fiat is likely to remain in the minority for some time to come. For the present, it is important European businesses keep themselves informed of trends and issues which will affect them and of the events in countries other than their own. This has recently become much easier with the creation of a pan-European agency for arts sponsorship, Cerec (Comité européen pour la rapprochement de l’économie et de la culture – European Committee for Business, Arts and Culture). This was established by the European Commission, from which it received initial funding, and the ten national sponsorship associations currently operating in Europe.

Cerec’s aims are to promote business support for the arts throughout Europe, act as a clearing house for information and offer advice to companies developing pan-European sponsorship strategies.

Business will certainly continue to support the arts, although at national level they may lose the pre-eminent position to other, more pressing, issues, such as education or the environment. However increasingly pan-European arts sponsorship will grow into an important new communication vehicle, uniquely able to transcend national differences to build a European identity.

Cerec can be contacted through Anne Van Haeverbeke, Nutmeg House, 60 Gainsford Street, London SE1 2NY. Phone 071-378 8143


Accurate comparative statistics about public and corporate support for the arts are hard to obtain. The Arts Council is currently updating its records (phone 071-333 0100). Meanwhile the following gives the best estimates of the position in the ‘big four’ countries of the EC.


Central government £1,648 million with regional and local government adding another £2,420 million, making a total of £4,068 million (1987)

business sponsorship £52 million (1988) – 1.3%


Central government £58.5 million with regional and local government adding another £2,765 million, making a total of £2,823 million (1987)

business sponsorship £46 million and £18 million from foundations (1988/89) – 2.3%


Central government £1,255 million with regional and local government adding another £795 million, making a total of £2,020 million (1987)

business sponsorship £148 million (1987) – 7.3%


Central government £431 million with local government adding another £257 million, making a total of £688 million (1988) business sponsorship £30 million (1989) – 4.4%

Source: Arts Council of Great Britain