Sunday, January 29, 2006

Business and the Arts: Case Study #1

Art Gallery of Swift Current

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In 2004, Saskatchewan Arts Alliance conducted a project to research the service relationship between arts and business. The project resulted in Business and the Arts: Service Relationship Indicators Final Report, and six case studies illustrating a number of concepts and principles described in the report.

The following case study on the Art Gallery of Swift Current, first in a series of six case studies, highlights the need for organizations to nurture relationships and properly acknowledge support. The study also speaks about the importance of the arts contributing to quality of life.

For a copy of the Business and the Arts Final Report, contact the SAA at (306)780-9820 or
outreach@artsalliance.sk.ca. An Executive Summary of the report is available on the SAA website at Business and the Arts Final Report.


The Art Gallery of Swift Current is a non-profit public art gallery which has provided access to expressions of human spirit and imagination since 1974. The gallery presents solo and group exhibitions of contemporary and historic artwork by some of the best visual artists in Saskatchewan and Canada, as well as organizing arts classes, school tours and special events.

For about the last three years, the Gallery has worked to strengthen its relationship (and partnership) with one of its major supporters – Barry and Rita Neigel, owners of the Husky Car/Truck Stop & Restaurant and Husky Corner Store & Bakery. The partnership began with the Husky Car/Truck Stop & Restaurant initially providing in-kind products and equipment to the Gallery for the “Blenders: Art and Music at the Art Gallery of Swift Current” event, which is held each Friday and Saturday evening between exhibition show changes. The support not only includes use of the concession machines (nacho makers, soda drink machines, etc.) free of charge, but also a donation of food products at wholesale cost. The Gallery sells the concession products at full market value and retains all monies raised. The Husky Car/Truck Stop & Restaurant also takes back all unsold products at the end of the event. At one point a popcorn maker was loaned for use at an event, and when Barry and Rita saw no use for it at their bakery, they donated the machine to the Gallery.

The relationship between the Husky Car/Truck Stop & Restaurant and Gallery was initiated by a Gallery staff person – Shan, Publicity and Events Coordinator. Shan’s and Neigel’s daughters were friends of about the same age. Shan enjoyed popular music and would often take her daughter and friends to concerts, and it was there that she first met Barry. Over time Shan and Barry became friends at these events and through their mutual love of popular music. When Shan went seeking sponsors for a Gallery event, she asked Barry for support. He quickly came on board and since that time has become a staunch supporter of the Gallery.

The Gallery maintains their relationship with the Husky Car/Truck Stop through regular communication, public acknowledgement of their support whenever possible, invitation to various events, and through informal ways like simply having a coffee to chat. Barry and Rita are not “die hard” arts patrons, but they do attend some events at the Gallery. They are, however, very committed to the Art Gallery of Swift Current and its mandate, and to community development initiatives. Barry believes the Gallery contributes to the quality of life in Swift Current and makes Swift Current a more attractive place to live, and visit; and he knows quality of life is important in attracting new residents to the city.

The Husky Car/Truck Stop’s support, in particular through Barry, has brought about other benefits to the Gallery as well. For example, at the WindoWorks project in Val Marie in southern Saskatchewan, the Gallery was organizing window displays in a deserted gas station. To their dismay Gallery organizers discovered fuel tanks that needed to be removed. They asked Barry for advice as to whom to turn. Barry suggested someone and when Gallery staff contacted that individual they mentioned that Barry had suggested they call. The result was the fuel tanks were removed at no charge.

The Husky Car and Truck Stop has enabled the Gallery to reduce its costs through in-kind donations of product and equipment, but they have also helped the Gallery to understand what motivates business support. One of the things the Gallery has learned is that people want to pay for their participation in Gallery events. When patrons attend the “Blenders” event for example, they know that their financial support (for beverages, etc.) supports the Gallery directly. The Gallery feels that because patrons are paying for the experience, they feel more at ease and more enthusiastic. Gallery staff has also learned that support from a business is not always about an immediate or direct return on investment. A classic example is the affinity partnership whereby the Husky Car/Truck Stop provides the Gallery with gas cards for broad distribution, and with each purchase (at any Husky station) a portion is remitted to the Gallery.

Each staff member at the Art Gallery of Swift Current is part of a team. Together, they identify potential supporters, but each staff person is responsible for garnering support – either cash or in-kind – for their programs. Individually and collectively, the staff always looks for potential prospects, and understands that many small contributions add up to a lot of support. Gallery staff realize it helps considerably to have a personal connection to a potential business, and at times previous relationships are used to make a connection, for example if a person can refer to a mutual acquaintance or friend who is well respected. The “gift of gab” is also key, not only in clearly explaining to a potential business what the Gallery wants, but more importantly in what the Gallery needs. The Gallery staff doesn’t ask permission to ask for something, but asks a business – directly – to give them what they need.

The Gallery has been able to do more as a result of its focus on partnering with business. And because they can do more, they have become more visible and more influential with government and in the community. The Gallery works continually to wins friends and influence people. Their value-added events, like a stylish coffee house in conjunction with artist’s talks, have raised money and their profile in the community; and getting business on board is becoming easier because businesses don’t want to feel ‘left out’.

The Art Gallery of Swift Current feels its success also lies in continually seeking out support (could be the person standing next to you) and the good job it has done of thanking its supporters (many businesses have commented positively on this). They also feel it is important to recognize the various motivators for business support (i.e. not always a direct return on investment). Gallery staff feels it is important to provide ownership to their partners – inviting them to events and to be involved in projects such as the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance’s report on Business and the Arts for example. In short, success comes as a result of to creating and nurturing friendships.

Business and the Arts: Service Relationship Indicators Final Report and supplementary case studies were funded by SaskCulture and Saskatchewan Lotteries through a Cultural Assistance Program Strategic Initiatives Project.

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