On Wednesday 5th March, the Arts Fundraising Fellows gathered to hear Moira Sinclair discuss philanthropy policy and her role at Arts Council England.
Moira Sinclair is the Executive Director for London & South-east, a role in which she oversees more than 300 organisations, with a budget of £200 million.
Moira began by telling us about her childhood love of drama, which she continued at university. She began her career in stage management for a number of venues on the London Fringe circuit, and then moved to the Hexagon Theatre in Reading, where she was the first female Stage Manager. Moira then went into local government, combining her artistic interests with policy-making. The change from creating to behind the scenes came from analysing in her artistic and cultural life where her talents would be best placed.
From her time in local government and as a charity fundraiser, Moira stressed the importance of organisations not fitting to the funder but finding the funder that fits the organisation’s goals. She reminded us that understanding the story you are telling and acknowledging the organisation’s audience is essential.
The conversation then turned to finance; Moira discussed how there is a certain apprehensiveness around discussing money and advised us to be clear and truthful when making an ask. She also said be gracious and always say thank you!
Moira’s first day in her current role was in 2007 when Arts Council England announced significant cuts to some, and over the past ten years she has witnessed a sea change with the arts portfolio becoming much less reliant on Arts Council England funding (with the old model of 20 to 75% reliance being replaced for some by 20 to 30%). Although this may seem drastic, the picture is far worse when comparing arts funding internationally and the role of public funding was still critical. She saw these cuts as a moment of cultural shift, and a moment where arts organisations need to review their strategy and leadership to develop resilience and make the case for funding. Furthermore, for local governments, the arts have to be able to make the case for need, in order to justify the spend.
Our attention then turned to the increasing focus on work in the digital sphere. Moira reinforced that digital work should be embedded throughout an organisation. It is important to realise that there can be technical issues surrounding intellectual property, the process of breaking into the mainstream and how to ensure commercial success when working digitally. However, the possibilities for diversity and cross art form collaborations are interesting, and the exciting changing role of the audience into consumer-makers, allows more people to engage with and be a part of the arts.
Moira gave us many examples, but also reminded us that fundraising sites such as Crowdfunder, with cultural projects accounting for a third of all appeals, create personal relationships mediated through a collaborative digital process. This is not definitive - in such moments of change a ‘blurry space’ can be created, and Moira remarked that it is important to appreciate ‘the energy that the rub brings into the room’ – it’s a changing context for all of us, and those organisations that thrive will be the ones that most actively respond to a changing context.
Many thanks to Moira Sinclair for a fascinating evening and insight into Arts Council England and the changing sector context that we are all operating in.