Like the urge to dance when music tickles your soul, the arts and social justice have always worked in tandem. Since the 1987 SILENCE = DEATH poster symbolizing AIDS activism, Project Row Houses revitalizing a black community, and video projection artworks reclaiming public art and spaces , art has raised awareness of societal challenges and garnered wide-reaching support for equity and social change.
Fortunately, Corporate America is finally taking note of this incredible dynamic. We’ve recently witnessed an uptick of companies addressing social justice issues through collaborations with artists and commissioning artworks that align with their mission and values. The 2021 Business Support for the Arts report found that corporations currently funding the arts are increasingly looking to tackle the challenges of mental health, racial equity, community enrichment, and economic development through creative sector partnerships: fantastic news for us all! But now you may wonder, if art and activism have worked together for years, why are companies choosing to utilize this powerful tool now?
Today’s economic and political climate clearly demonstrates that public opinion about what is right and just directly relates to Corporate America’s bottom line. To remain relevant, companies must authentically connect with consumers and support cultural and sociopolitical issues in everything from their work, culture, product development, marketing and social media presence. Corporations must build social responsibility into the “DNA of the business” to remain “viable in the long term” and avoid cancel culture. Partnering with arts and humanities organizations, artists, and scholars already connected to– and embedded in– the communities Corporate America desires to reach generates spectacular opportunities to fulfill these commitments and make authentic positive impact.
“Companies are moving away from conventional arts funding to align their arts giving with broader corporate citizenship and business goals”
– 2021 Business Suport for the Arts Report
Bearing this in mind, I want to pause and encourage you to take stock of your current partnerships. Ask yourself, who are your for-profit partners? Which companies are pivoting to support social justice causes aligning with your organization’s mission and values? How can you partner with them? Would you request financial support or in-kind donations? Could you collaborate to develop new programs or work as think-partners to establish more equitable workplace policies within their corporation? There are many ways the creative sector can work alongside Corporate America to serve audiences and consumers better, resulting in far-reaching benefits for everyone involved.
Extending the equity work you and your organizations already practice is one such benefit. Expanding your partnerships into the for-profit sector opens doors to help diversify audiences and level the playing field within the creative industry. For example, people who feel unwelcomed in the arts and culture realm might suddenly engage with you or your organization because your work is attached to a company or product they love. In this instance, the stigma and barriers to participation in creative and cultural activities are removed, bringing them into your audience and allowing them to engage in your community. Diversifying the financial portfolio of BIPOC and other marginalized arts and humanities practitioners is another equitable benefit of creating these types of relationships. It provides access to additional monetary support beyond the traditional funding resources for these organizations, artists, and scholars.
Tread carefully as you move forward in this newish and exciting realm of possibilities. Ensure your corporate relationships truly and honestly benefit your organization, staff, practice, patrons, and community. Avoid walking into the Disney trap of too little too late action causing harm to those you serve. And remember to keep the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County in the loop! We want to hear about your new business connections and the impactful work you accomplish together! Email our Marketing and Communications Manager, Brittney Dubose at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story with us and our entire cultural community.
It’s a new season friends. Onward and upward!