Museums & Galleries Qld

Show me the money: Creative Partnerships expert talks arts, grants and philanthropy in Brisbane

Posted on: 27 May 2014


Posted by Jo Evans, Communications Officer

On Wednesday, May 21, Creative Partnerships Australia organised a free forum with New York-based international arts, philanthropy and management expert, Ben Cameron, and I was fortunate enough to attend.

The forum was held at QAG|GOMA and was an opportunity to learn about how to manage grants and philanthropic donations in these cash-strapped times.

Ben has a pedigree when it comes to philanthropy, managing a special, one-time $50 million allocation, in addition to an annual $14 million grants program for theatre, contemporary dance and jazz at New York’s prestigious Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF).

He specialises in arts funding, philanthropy and grants, although the DDCF also donates funds to medical research and environmental groups.

While Queensland is a long way from New York, there were many parallels between the work Ben does and the work we do in the museum and gallery sector.

He spoke about the issues facing arts organisations today including financial pressures, which limit an artist’s ability to succeed, and the new millennium issue of increasing technology.

This latter point was of particular interest with Ben saying that, scarily, art organisations now compete with the 24/7 convenience and accessibility of internet-based entertainment including online shopping, gaming, social networking.

Ben went on to discuss the key attributes arts organisations need to thrive and prosper in the new millennium. These include:

  1. Clarity of mission, values and goals
  2. Clear roles for staff and the board
  3. Change management
  4. Internal and external networks and ongoing professional development for staff
  5. A robust financial model
  6. Good information gathering
  7. Time to reflect on what is working and what isn’t.

He also made the point that while funding was often the difference between an organisation thriving or not, many arts organisations were not under-capitalised, but mis-capitalised and that managing funding required as much innovation as developing the actual art itself.

Fiona Menzies, CEO of Creative Partnerships Australia, co-chaired the forum and urged the audience to be ambitious in creating, producing and promoting new work.

But the final word belonged to Ben Cameron who said the arts promoted tolerance, ideas and critical thinking in our communities and that we needed the arts more than ever today because of that.

Take home messages from the lecture:

  • Innovate, not only in your art but in your budgeting
  • Start a conversation with your audience, don’t broadcast to or at them
  • Embrace change
  • Don’t be afraid to take a risk
  • Be honest
  • Know who you are and what you do.


Case study: The Wooster Group

Ben presented a case study of the Wooster Group, a company of artists who make work for theatre, dance and media in New York City.

The group originated in 1975 and enjoyed success for many years but recently noticed a decline in its audiences, even its local audience who had been loyal supporters since its inception.

Using grant money from the DDCF, the Group worked out who their audience was, why they were in decline and how they could win them back.

Ben said the key to this process was innovation which was the only way to find new pathways to mission fulfillment and public value delivery.

Also, marketing of arts organisations had to change from broadcast to conversation.

The Wooster Group took this advice onboard and created the Dailies which is a short film on their website, created and uploaded each day. You can check it out at:

Their website suddenly got more interest, as people wanted to see what would appear each day, as did the group’s Facebook page, but most pleasingly, ticket sales increased by 100 per cent.

The Wooster Group used innovation to reinvent its exchanges with audiences and reaped the rewards.


Ben Cameron visited Australia as the guest of Melbourne Business School and Creative Partnerships Australia, with the generous support of the Margaret Lawrence Bequest and the Pratt Foundation.


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Museums & Galleries Queensland

122 Gerler Rd, Hendra QLD 4011

Phone: 07 3059 9740

Museums & Galleries Queensland is the peak professional body for the public museum and gallery sector in Queensland.

Museums & Galleries Queensland promotes, supports and provides services to foster excellence in museums, galleries and keeping places. We strive to ensure a future where museums, galleries and keeping places are relevant, accessible and valued by their communities.

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