Is Corporate Museum Sponsorship Influencing Exhibition Content

British Museum

The British Museum is currently showing an exhibition which opened on the 24 of May. The subject is all about horses. Rather the exhibition is about horses and their history. More specifically, the exhibition is all about the history of horses from Arabia to England. Aptly titled, “The Horse: From Arabia to Royal Ascot,” this exhibition appears to be sponsor centred, rather than just sponsored. Horses are majestic, powerful animals, the British Museum website points out in detail how important the history of horses have been to our cultural development. In addition the site lists as it’s major sponsors three specific organizations. The first and second being directly related to Saudi Arabian equestrian and cultural ventures and the third being a European and American horse farm which has produced some of the most successful horses to compete around the world. Most major exhibitions held at any public gallery, museum or space has a key sponsor which can draw attention away from the value of the work.

Looking at “The Horse From Arabia to Royal Ascot” exhibition specifically there appears to be an obvious trend, it is all about horses from two regions. That is to say not horses from Central Asia, North America or any other part of the world. This is not a coincidence. Considering that two-thirds of the major sponsors are affiliated in some way with Saudi Arabia through a variety of contexts the exhibition leans towards promoting Saudi Arabian history with the horse and Britain in a particular way. Major corporations that sponsor exhibitions in and around London tend to have their own agenda and expect that to be met by the curatorial staff who will be organizing many of the events and pieces that will be included in the show. It is not only the exhibition choices that are influenced by these corporations. The general experience of the audience is awash with marketing from often a myriad of corporate logos and advertisement. Flyers to all major events more often than not have an entire page dedicated to sponsors. Occasionally, the list of different companies appears to be never ending. With so many people to keep happy and cater to, it is amazing any exhibition manages to happen at all. Consequently, many of the smaller galleries and major spaces as well are forced to rely more and more on corporate sponsors as government spending in the arts is cut.

Without the help from major corporate sponsors many of these exhibitions would never exist. Although many events receive some funding from government agencies very little money can be generated, certainly not enough to produce a major show. London is very fortunate because a majority of the exhibitions on offer from the Tate Modern to the British Museum are free. This boils down to the fact that they have major corporate sponsors that can put significant amounts of capital towards projects of this size. By having funding taken care of by a few major corporations, the professionals involved with creating the shows are able to focus on creating a thorough and detailed presentation of work rather than worrying about the monetary aspects that ultimately need to be covered. The arts have always had a history of patrons to sponsor work and see that it makes it into the public eye. Thomas Coutt’s in the 18th Century provided a large amount of funding for the Royal Opera House.  The banking sector tends to jump on artist projects in hopes of rectifying their image following the collapse of the financial market. Gordon Pell deputy chairman of Coutts told the Financial Times “We get reflected glory [by sponsoring the arts]…bankers could do with any reflected glory we can get.” This creates in theory, a mutually beneficial relationship that both sides can gain from.

Corporations are not all bad for the arts. There is a symbiotic relationship that is formed between many of them, which at the end of the day allows major shows in particular to exist and corporations to build a positive public persona. “The Horse: From Arabia to Royal Ascot” has certainly been realised in large part because of the success that their sponsors have shown and their willingness to create an exhibition that draws an enthusiastic crowd.

Words By: Portia Pettersen Copyright Artlyst 2012

Image: From British Museums Website for “The Horse: From Arabia to Royal Ascot”

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