Last week I sat down for coffee with this year’s Arnold Edinborough Award Recipient, Stephen Delaney. The annual honour, given by Business for the Arts, is awarded to an under-40 business professional who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and volunteerism in the arts. Outside of his day job as a Senior Associate in Corporate Finance at Paradigm Capital, Delaney gives generously of his time to many arts organizations including Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie, a contemporary dance company based in Toronto’s Regent Park; the Art Gallery of Ontario; and Canada’s National Ballet School.
He is also co-founder and current chair of the CreatiVenture Collective, a patron movement connecting small arts organizations with the support of businesses and young patrons in Canada. Focusing on small-scale contemporary dance companies, the Collective has supported fundraising initiatives, provided business operational counseling, and helped to produce events and performances for several projects, raising over $150,000 since 2010.
I asked Delaney why he was compelled to start CreatiVenture and his answer offered insight into the needs and motivations of a new generation of arts supporters. He spoke about the great chasm between large and small arts organizations when it comes to engaging donors and patrons. Large institutions rely on donors who can give big dollars to keep their operations afloat and they offer exclusive opportunities for meaningful involvement to this elite group of patrons. Delaney noted that large organizations offering volunteer opportunities, high profile parties and exclusive social events in exchange for costly institutional memberships might not be providing a young corporate professional or first time donor with the kind of meaningful engagement they’re looking for. “You go to a large organization to volunteer your time, and you end up handing out pamphlets!”
While social opportunities are not unwelcome, many young professionals want to take a more direct approach to supporting the arts, satisfying a need to make a tangible and attributable impact on the work or career of a specific artist or arts organization. “We want to have a hands-on approach,” said Delaney. Smaller organizations have much to gain from the time, specialized skill sets and money these young arts patrons have to offer. CreatiVenture aims to act as a connector, linking small arts organizations with the support of businesses and young patrons to enable their growth as both artistic producers and entrepreneurs. “There are people out there who have time and skills and are willing to help out in meaningful ways. CreatiVenture aims to match volunteers and donors with organizations that can best leverage their skills and expertise.”
The Collective makes one-time investments with partnering companies, designed to boost the audience and sustainability of artists, while engaging arts patrons at a fundamental, hands-on level. These new patrons may have less cash to offer than their senior colleagues, but have the ability to complement their dollars with other valuable resources such as their personal skills and expertise as well as access to their networks and influence among their peers and colleagues. Hosting events has been a key part of CreatiVenture’s activity because it offers a point of accessibility for new patrons and audience members to experience the art. “A friendly social environment is helpful in attracting new audiences, especially when they know other friends and colleagues will also be attending.” But for Delaney and the CreatiVenture team, it’s not only about introducing newcomers to specific companies, but building an interest in the form itself. Their vision is big. “We want to build an audience for dance.”
While the initiative is still in its early years, members of CreatiVenture have already helped fledgling arts organizations do everything from developing innovative marketing campaigns, to navigating incorporation. They’ve also helped artists by brokering relationships with key service providers and, of course, raise cash to support their upcoming projects and activities. While working with several dance companies, Delaney has a new found appreciation for how hard it is to run an arts organization. “It’s incredible how resilient they are.”
CreatiVenture is currently seeking Toronto-based partners for 2014/15. Submit your proposal by October 18th!
If you're an enthusiastic arts supporter interested in starting your own collective of arts patrons, contact CreatiVenture at firstname.lastname@example.org
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