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Festival of the Future Saturday November 17, 2012. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comHalfway though July, Peter Biggs, chief exec­ut­ive of Clem­enger BBDO Mel­bourne and former man­aging dir­ect­or of Clem­enger BBDO Wel­ling­ton, received con­firm­a­tion of some­thing he had always felt. “I found out a fact the oth­er day,” he explains, speak­ing by phone dur­ing a trip through the Greek islands. “In Ancient Greece, the doc­tors were always loc­ated very near to the theatres. I thought it was very inter­est­ing, even thou­sands of years ago, there was this sense of con­nec­tion between the arts and heal­ing prac­tices, this idea that the nature of the arts was a place where human beings were made whole.”

Hav­ing spent the last 15 years of his life act­ively involved in arts phil­an­thropy, Peter has long been acutely aware of the import­ance of the arts to the cul­tur­al, social and eco­nom­ic health of a soci­ety. Be it lit­er­at­ure, per­form­ing arts or visu­al arts, the arts cre­ate hubs for com­munit­ies and, sim­ul­tan­eously, have long been dir­ectly sup­por­ted by com­munit­ies. In Wel­ling­ton, a city often titled the ‘cre­at­ive cap­it­al’, this is par­tic­u­larly true, as gov­ern­ment fund­ing bod­ies, com­pan­ies and private indi­vidu­als pool fin­an­cial resources, know­ledge and time to cul­tiv­ate an eas­ily felt sense of vibrancy and artist­ic expres­sion. It doesn’t just hap­pen because it hap­pens; it hap­pens because of people doing their bit.

As cor­por­a­tions with long involve­ment in the arts pull out of Wel­ling­ton, or shift their focus from the arts towards the quick and easy return of sports spon­sor­ship, or remove fund­ing alto­geth­er, change is in the air. Played well, this realign­ment could lead to a stronger and more sus­tain­able pos­i­tion for both the arts and our sense of com­munity. In this art­icle, Fish­Head speaks with a cross sec­tion of indi­vidu­als involved with phil­an­thropy, dona­tions and giv­ing, in the pro­cess review­ing what has been, and what could come next.  

Brian Steele and Andrea Cochrane

September 2014 Issue: Philanthropy article: Brian Steele @ Circa Theatre, Wellington. Wednesday 16 July 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comTen years ago, Bri­an Steele, exec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Shoreline Part­ners, and his wife Andrea Cochrane became involved in theatre spon­sor­ship. “I had a good year in busi­ness and thought, now is the time to invest back in the com­munity,” he reflects. Bri­an wanted to sup­port people mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. “If you cre­ate that vibe, you are going to attract the right people to your city,” he explains, as they sit with their young son in the foy­er of Circa Theatre.

Bri­an cred­its his interest here to the influ­ence of the late Sir Roy McK­en­zie, whose, as he puts it, “good­ness rubbed off on me over the years”. He’s quick to define what he does with Andrea as spon­sor­ship, not phil­an­thropy. “I think the spon­sor­ship idea is healthy because both parties have to give.” On a yearly basis they sup­port Circa Theatre, and for the last five years have sup­por­ted Long Cloud Youth Theatre. Then there have been oth­er pro­jects like con­trib­ut­ing to the refur­bish­ment of Bats Theatre.

Bri­an and Andrea reg­u­larly bring busi­ness guests to Circa, hop­ing to encour­age a taste for theatre and per­haps fur­ther spon­sor­ship. “I won­der if people out there real­ise how easy it is to get involved,” Bri­an muses. “I think people really miss out by not doing these things.”

We’ve developed a whole new range of friends,” Andrea says. “There are some really great oppor­tun­it­ies for people to participate.”

Com­mit­ted to ongo­ing spon­sor­ship rela­tion­ships, Bri­an and Andrea estab­lish a level and look to increase it over time. “The theatres were star­ted by people leav­ing Europe at the end of World War II,” Bri­an says. “They didn’t see this even exist­ing here, so they cre­ated it. It’s a lot harder to cre­ate from scratch than it is to sup­port. These things just need prop­ping up. They’re already going.”

Pat Shepherd

Festival of the Future Saturday November 17, 2012. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comSev­er­al years ago, freel­ance pho­to­graph­er and graph­ic design­er Pat Shep­herd vis­ited Thai­l­and to teach refugee chil­dren from Burma about the joy of art and pho­to­graphy. Wit­ness­ing the con­di­tions there was a huge wake-up call. On return­ing to Wel­ling­ton, he saw our way of life dif­fer­ently. Awakened to the power of giv­ing, he wanted not just to give back, but also to cre­ate a sys­tem to make it easi­er for oth­ers to give as well.

It’s about every­one doing their tiny bit,” he enthuses. “Those tiny bits add up to a huge amount and actu­ally sup­port our com­munity and envir­on­ment with abso­lutely no stress on our lives.” To facil­it­ate this, after two years of cof­fee meet­ings and brain­storm­ing ses­sions, Pat unveiled One Per­cent Col­lect­ive. Rooted in the idea of ask­ing people to donate indi­vidu­ally 1 per­cent of their yearly income to char­ity, the col­lect­ive makes use of digit­al storytelling, sup­port from the loc­al arts com­munity and new approaches to the media about giv­ing to spread its message.

With infra­struc­tur­al fin­an­cial sup­port provided by a core set of donors dubbed ‘The Found­ing 40’ and a second tier called ‘The Future 50’, Pat’s char­ity doesn’t have to rely on grants to oper­ate. This allows them to plan ahead more freely while work­ing with the net­work of char­it­ies they sup­port. Partnered heav­ily with loc­al inde­pend­ent busi­nesses, musi­cians, artists and writers, they’ve become the char­ity of choice with­in the cre­at­ive sec­tor, along the way illu­min­at­ing mod­els and prac­tices that, if adop­ted with­in the loc­al arts com­munity, could be incred­ibly help­ful to sus­tain­ing the wider pres­ence and impact of the arts on a cul­tur­al and social level. “Young­er people tend to think of phil­an­thropy as to do with reli­gion or col­lect­ing on the street,” Pat admits. “We wanted to move away from that.”


Anna Guenther


The co-founder and CEO of online crowd­fund­ing plat­form PledgeMe, Anna Guenther’s vis­ion for the future of social enter­prise is sus­tain­ab­il­ity. “Char­ity has always been unsus­tain­able,” she says. “There is no cer­tainty of sup­port.” Aware of the way char­ity out­comes can seem invis­ible at times, Anna is con­cerned with bring­ing good into our every­day lives. “The reas­on behind what we do with crowd­fund­ing is there has to be value exchange,” she explains. “If you are help­ing someone out, you need to get some­thing in return. That’s quite dif­fer­ent from the just-give model.”

            Since their hard launch in 2012, PledgeMe has helped New Zeal­anders raise over $2 mil­lion in fund­ing, turn­ing numer­ous dreams into real­ity along the way. In the pro­cess they’ve begun to scrub the stigma off ask­ing your peers for sup­port. A driv­ing force in the rise of the plat­form has been the loc­al arts scene. “The vast major­ity of our cre­at­ive pro­jects are from Wel­ling­ton,” she reveals. “They are cre­at­ive and they are artists, so I think they need to be cre­at­ive with their crowd­fund­ing. In say­ing that, they have done some crazy stuff in the last two years, but there is still an $80 mil­lion fund­ing gap for cre­at­ive pro­jects in New Zealand.”

Also con­cerned with bridging the cap­it­al chasm faced by many young com­pan­ies, Anna and PledgeMe have been work­ing towards an equity crowd­fund­ing licence with the Fin­an­cial Mar­kets Author­ity. “With equity you’ll have some ongo­ing own­er­ship,” she explains. “If a com­pany grows really big because of the money you put in, and they sell, you’ll get a return.” She’s excited about the idea of enga­ging investors at a more grass­roots level. Anna’s also optim­ist­ic about the poten­tial to increase diversity with­in busi­ness, in terms of oper­at­ors, investors and board members.

Peter Biggs


In 1999, Peter Biggs was named chair of Cre­at­ive New Zea­l­and. Awar­ded a first-class hon­ours degree in Eng­lish lit­er­at­ure and Lat­in from Vic­tor­ia Uni­ver­sity, as alluded to above, he’d long loved the arts. The fol­low­ing year, the Labour government’s $20 mil­lion Cul­tur­al Recov­ery Pack­age came through. Wit­ness­ing the impact, Peter decided to start giv­ing him­self. “It became a lead­er­ship issue for me,” he says. “I quickly learned that any small amount of money goes an enorm­ously long way in the arts… I thought I had best lead by example.”

Peter stayed chair until 2006, when he was appoin­ted chief exec­ut­ive of Clem­enger BBDO Mel­bourne. Now divid­ing his time between that city and Wel­ling­ton, he con­tin­ues to chair or sit in mem­ber­ship on arts coun­cils, boards and reviews. “If people feel they can reach their cre­at­ive poten­tial, that has a spin off to the whole eco­nomy,” he explains. “Coun­tries can’t just be beau­ti­ful any more; they have to be inter­est­ing as well.”

Over the last dec­ade and a half, Peter has seen private phil­an­thropy increase as tra­di­tion­al cor­por­ate involve­ment falls. “It’s not just fin­an­cial gen­er­os­ity; it’s time, energy, exper­i­ence and advice,” he says. “The arts phil­an­thropy thing is wider than money. That’s one of the things that needs to be bet­ter under­stood.” While cul­tiv­at­ing private phil­an­throp­ic rela­tion­ships isn’t easy, Peter describes it as “the best money arts organ­isa­tions can get”, enthus­ing about the free­dom it offers. He also praises crowd­fund­ing plat­forms like Boos­ted and PledgeMe, and the impact of Cul­ture and Her­it­age Min­is­ter Chris Finlayson’s Cul­tur­al Phil­an­thropy Taskforce, while high­light­ing the import­ance of devel­op­ment with­in arts organ­isa­tions. “I don’t call it fun­drais­ing,” he says. “It’s got­ten a lot more soph­ist­ic­ated. You need someone exper­i­enced in that role. Get­ting the money in used to be the last item on the agenda at meet­ings. It’s got to be first now.”


While tra­di­tion­al cor­por­ate fund­ing sup­port might be retract­ing, and gov­ern­ment arts fund­ing is barely hold­ing the line, the import­ance of private phil­an­thropy and dona­tions only increases, as does the import­ance of new strategies and mod­els for rais­ing aware­ness of, and cul­tiv­at­ing, these exchanges. Mov­ing for­ward, Peter Biggs sees lead­er­ship by example as key. “In the United States, if you are on the board of an arts organ­isa­tion, you give. This is some­thing which is only just grow­ing in New Zea­l­and. You give, and you give a con­sid­er­able amount. It’s part of the deal if you want to come onto that board.”

Fall­ing in line with the idea of indi­vidu­al lead­er­ship by example, he sees the arts com­munity in Wel­ling­ton as being able to lead the way col­lect­ively for New Zea­l­and. “For Wel­ling­ton to think that the tra­di­tion­al cor­por­a­tions are going to con­tin­ue to sup­port the arts would be very naive,” he says. “There has got to be a new dynam­ic in terms of small-to-medi­um enter­prises, emer­ging and suc­cess­ful tech com­pan­ies, and private indi­vidu­als step­ping up. I think this is how Wel­ling­ton is going to keep its lead­er­ship role. It’s got to think dif­fer­ently. It’s got to become more cohes­ive and col­legi­al. That’s how I think we will keep things like the Fest­iv­al of the Arts strong and vibrant. It’s all doable, but it means think­ing very dif­fer­ently. The coun­cil isn’t going to just turn it on. It has to be done by the people of Wel­ling­ton now, which is really amaz­ing. It could be fant­ast­ic­ally won­der­ful. There are a lot of con­ver­sa­tions going on around Wel­ling­ton among really good people who want to con­trib­ute in this way, which I think is really exciting.”

As reas­sur­ing as Peter’s vis­ion sounds, it won’t hap­pen without every­one doing their bit.

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