“Our culture is a mixed forest rich in diversity providing us with vital fresh air”, once stated the former Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker when addressing the preservation of the cultural landscape. But the large houses of creative artists, in particular, come with a large price tag. However, companies along with the state can make a contribution to this as the example of the Bavarian State Opera shows.
Night for night, over 2,000 guests at the Bavarian State Opera follow the stories taking place on stage, and witness the emotions and conflicts of the characters and the dramatic interaction between the instruments and voices. In music, harmonics describes the consonance of the sounds. Both in the music and in the scenic interpretation it is the unexpected, even the dissonant and the awkward, that catch the attention of our eyes and ears. The Greek goddess Harmonia was the daughter of Mars and Venus – to this day synonyms for contradictory but complementary principles. Thus, harmony does not mean agreement without conflict, but the union of opposites to form a harmonious entirety. Or as Heraclitus put it: “Out of discord comes the fairest harmony.” And the same applies to the arts and business. The emotional and intuitive nature of art is contrasted by the rational economic efficiency of business.
As a business location, Bavaria is among the strongest economic regions in Europe. However, the attractiveness of a location is not only defined by its economy and the revenues generated there. Companies create jobs. Employees relocate the centre of their lives to the region. Highly qualified employees, often a company’s most valuable resource, are particularly likely to take a region’s cultural environment into account when choosing their location. And there is no need to emphasise that culture has a significant influence on education. Thus, these two factors alone make culture essential for business. In addition, a rich and diverse range of cultural activities makes people more likely to take a detour to the region and produces a creative environment, further increasing the location’s innovative potential. The existing culture also has a direct influence on the attractiveness of a region for tourism. People want to be where their needs are satisfied, so both a region’s economic factors and its cultural activities play a significant role in its attractiveness as a location. It is not without good reason that Bavaria’s constitution declares it to be a cultural state.
The current social and financial developments require, on the one hand, cultural institutions to be more orientated on economic principles and, on the other, businesses to adopt a new approach when it comes to corporate culture and social commitment. Cultural sponsoring makes it possible to satisfy each aspect while benefitting from the strengths of the other. This will allow the differences between business and art to be used to create added value that neither could create alone. If this is successful, it will strengthen both parties and, as a result, the regional location. Looking at the relationship between business and art in Germany, the situation appears more like that of two planets orbiting at great distance from one another, rather than mutually attracting poles. Donations and sponsoring amount to about 30 million euros – just one per cent of the total budget of approx. 2.8 billion euros for Germany’s theatres, so there is tremendous potential for development.
This requires cultural sponsoring to become more professional. As with all things – be it in the business world or the arts – good intentions are commendable, but intentions alone rarely produce top results. Needless to say, scattergun or random approaches can at best lead to lucky successes. The Bavarian State Opera began professionalising sponsoring activities back in 2002, succeeding in increasing its fundraising income by 490 per cent. The number of sponsors has since grown from three corporate partners to 170. Many partnerships have been in place for many years and are being continually expanded.
In contrast to donations, where the donor makes a financial contribution without receiving a service in return, sponsoring involves a mutual exchange of services. But what does an equivalent exchange of services between business and the arts look like?
While cultural institutions can achieve an increase in their revenues, which allows them to implement additional projects such as children’s and youth theatre or contemporary and innovative experiments (although generating third-party income cannot be seen as a substitute for the necessary and socially justified subsidies), the main advantages of cultural sponsoring for businesses lie primarily in improving their reputation, motivating staff and encouraging customer loyalty. Sponsoring involvement is generally well-received and improves the company’s image. Customers’ confidence in the company increases and has a positive effect on customer relations. In addition, overall satisfaction and the willingness of employees to recommend companies involved in cultural sponsoring increase.
However, the connection has to be perceived as a partnership rather than a business relationship in order to fully exploit the advantages and synergies which can be generated by cultural sponsoring. Coordinating expectations and objectives, consensus on values and perfectly matching identities form the basis for professional cultural sponsoring activities. The company’s brand should fit the cultural institution, and the target groups should correspond with one another. Only then can a true and authentic partnership develop, both internally and in terms of the external image.
Furthermore, connection to the region plays a major role. Cultural sponsoring is particularly effective for companies when it demonstrates social responsibility and involvement where employees and customers can best benefit from them.
The reputation of the Bavarian State Opera makes it Bavaria’s “cultural flagship”. Prominent conductors, exciting directors, and excellent singers and musicians create an innovative and sensual programme, season for season, which defines our long-term artistic profile. More than 500,000 visitors each year and a sell-out rate of 96 per cent confirm the importance of the Bavarian State Opera for Bavaria’s attractiveness as a business location and hint at the impact cultural sponsoring can have.
The regional connection between business and the arts has another crucial advantage, too: it makes it possible to create and maintain networks. Many of our sponsors have been brought together in sponsoring circles, whose attractiveness is partly based on a sense of belonging. Together, the members jointly support a cultural institution whose values they identify with.
The Premium Circle of the Bavarian State Opera, for example, is not only a selected circle of sponsors from top companies, but also a shared forum and top-class network of representatives from business and culture. This provides the opportunity to discuss topics relevant to both the arts and industry.
Cultural sponsoring therefore involves not only exchanging money or services, but also joint commitment. And the result is far more than just a business relationship. Partnerships and friendships evolve as the parties work towards shared goals. This makes it possible for the arts and business to take on responsibility for the region and society together.
Just as Mars and Venus created Harmonia despite or perhaps due to their differences, sponsoring partnerships between business and the arts can create unique compositions out of complementary opposites, making a significant contribution to the attractiveness and promotion of the Free State of Bavaria as a business location.
The author studied Drama at the Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna and became the artistic director of the Staatliche Schauspielbühnen in Berlin in 1987. In 1990, he joined Taller Europe Paris; in 1991 he became director of the Vienna Festival and then director of the Volksoper in Vienna. From 1999 to 2008, Nikolaus Bachler was the director of the Vienna Burgtheater. Since then he has served as the director of the Bavarian State Opera.