25th Oct 2020
3 Min Read

The creative era of corporate social responsibility

Russ Norton
Russ Norton
Culture & Change

Our creative industries are in desperate need of support. Thanks to lockdown restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, most entertainment venues are now closed. Nightclubs are serving food at tables in order to just stay open. Cinemas are closing their doors. Gigs and festivals aren’t being booked. Panto season is cancelled (oh yes it is).

Perhaps the saddest part of this all is that we’re living through an era when entertainment is needed more than ever. The monotony of lockdown means that people are seeking the bright lights, music and atmosphere of venues for some pure novelty. A little escapism from the tedium of their own front rooms.

The government’s ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot’ campaign revealed their prediction for industry: ‘best to retrain now and find a job in cyber, because your role as a ballet dancer is unlikely to exist in the near future’.

So who could come to the rescue of our arts and entertainment industry?

In Britain, there’s a rich heritage of businesses investing in communities for the sake of their employees. In York, the Rowntree company built an entire village to provide better quality housing for the low-income employees of their confectionary factories. More recently, the Facebook and Google campuses were hailed as the future of workspaces – providing on-site gyms, restaurants and crèches for their employees.

And we’ve all seen the increasing focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR). A company’s CSR credentials are becoming a bigger and bigger part of their brand – both to consumers and employees – so the breadth and scale of investments made by large organisations is increasing.

From environmental schemes to local charities, ethical investments to carbon capture, businesses want to be seen to be having a positive impact on the wider world.

Could supporting the arts be the next step for CSR?

Some brands are already investing in the arts. EY has supported the Tate Galleries for many years. Oil, tobacco and FMCG brands are all donors to major cultural venues such as the Royal Opera House, British Museum and National Portrait Gallery. While the brands themselves benefit from the reputational benefit and access for corporate entertaining, the partnerships sometimes draw criticism from those who question the donors’ broader morals and challenge the elitist nature of the venues supported.

The opportunity, then, is for corporate support of the arts to take place where their people are: in towns and cities across the UK. Sponsoring choirs, community theatres, dance troupes, music venues, independent cinemas.

The benefits are wide-reaching. Employees get access to much-needed (safe) distractions from the uncertainty and monotony in their lives. Their wellbeing may improve by forming new social connections – ones that aren’t facilitated via video call. Local economies benefit by maintaining jobs (which then has a positive ripple effect on other businesses). The companies benefit from happier employees, and an injection of positivity to their employer brand. Plus there’s the chance to use it as a marketing and reputational boost.

Of course it comes down to cold-hard cash. It’s up to senior leadership teams now to make the decision about their vision of our collective future and where they see their role in it. For one or two organisations to take the bold move to step into the arts world in a way that really benefits their employees, could start a new revolution of local entertainment and guarantee jobs in a sector that so desperately needs support right now.

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