steirischer herbst is a non-profit limited liability company (gemeinnützige GmbH) that is 100% publicly owned (2/3 Styria Province and 1/3 City of Graz). In addition to basic subsidies provided by the owners, as an international festival, steirischer herbst also receives a subsidy from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Art and Culture. The percentage of the total budget made up by subsidies given by these funding bodies is currently approximately 83%. The remaining 17% has to be earned every year anew, consisting of admission fees, other subsidies, donations and sponsoring. The percentage of sponsors is the largest portion of this internally generated income, approx. 15%, and is becoming increasingly important due to growth in recent years. Many sponsors have been funding the festival since Veronica Kaup-Hasler became director. Steiermärkische Sparkasse, for example, has been the festival’s major sponsor since 2006. Another long-standing sponsor, Legero, has decided to increase its commitment to the festival this year, quintupling its annual sponsorship – thus becoming the festival’s first ever general sponsor.
On the one hand, sponsors who give money and material to the festival support the festival directly in the form of their sponsorship, but also indirectly by entrenching the festival in the region (with some fifty sponsors in 2011) and thus sending out a powerful signal to political funding bodies. The strong commitment on the part of the business community further augments the significance of the festival for the city and the region, also demonstrating the importance of steirischer herbst for Graz as a business location.
As in all our activities, we always try to do justice to our agenda in terms of cultural policy when choosing our sponsoring partners and how we wish to work with them. This has meant leaving the realm of conventional forms of sponsoring. Instead, we always try to engage in a discourse on contemporary art and its diverse manifestations with our sponsors. Our aim is for them, like us, to see art – and thus creativity and innovation – as a major driving force with regard to the future of society, hoping to foster this view and reaffirm this stance through our work.
Over the past few years, we have always initiated special services for sponsors so as to encourage exchange on festival topics (hosted attendance, workshops for company staff, etc.). Among other things, this has allowed us to reach new target groups (e.g. trainees) with our sponsors. We also recommend product placement for sponsors only in such places where this fits in organically with the festival in terms of aesthetics and content. The festival centres in recent years, for example, consisted of products and materials provided by our sponsors that were artistically repurposed by artists and architects (for instance Euro pallets in 2010 or Eternit panels in 2011).
Of course, there are always negotiable limits to this kind of collaboration, as the focus must always be on art and its necessities, to which advertising must always take second place. Sometimes, this may mean that we cannot fulfil potential sponsors’ expectations and wishes with regard to advertising, or only to a certain extent. But here again, the aim must always be to explain and thus to convey the necessity of art in an ongoing dialogue with the sponsor.
steirischer herbst’s sponsoring philosophy is not so much a fundamentalist code of conduct with regard to acquiring outside funds, as is necessarily the case with such organisations as Greenpeace, for example. Their credibility hinges directly on their funding structure, which means that certain companies cannot be considered as sponsors in view of their product or service. That is not as categorically true for steirischer herbst. Even so, steirischer herbst can, and indeed has in the past, rejected sponsoring inquiries or refrained from entering into a partnership because internal maxims were seen to be irreconcilable with potential sponsors’ business models.
Of course, in practice there are always complexities, which is why we are always interested in comparing notes with other institutions. Every decision in favour of or against something makes it clearer to us how we want to live our sponsoring commitment. Because learning from others’ experience can only be of benefit, we invite everyone to share their experience with us here.