Brands and the arts: Why sponsorship is no longer enough

Brands are no strangers to art event sponsorships.

Art sponsorship has changed and brands need to keep up, writes Anastasia Elaeva
Art sponsorship has changed and brands need to keep up, writes Anastasia Elaeva
However, with ever stronger programmes drawing in a more sophisticated public hungry for new experiences, the competition has heated up and brands are challenged to justify their investment and find the most appropriate and engaging partnerships. 

The bar is getting higher and deeper collaborations handing artists creative licence are becoming the new normal.

The question is whether the brands can take this further by communicating their art initiatives to wider online audiences more effectively.

At venues like the Biennale of Art, the world's major stage for contemporary art in Venice, and at Switzerland's leading international art fair Art Basel, certain brands were pushing the envelope into more meaningful engagements like artist collaborations that encourage entirely new works, or educational initiatives that expand the public understanding of contemporary art. 

Watchmaker Swatch, the Biennale’s main sponsor, collaborated with Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos on an immersive installation made of luminous flowers, which overturns the traditional view of the garden and highlights the brand’s embrace of the unconventional. The company is also exhibiting the outputs from its Swatch Peace Hotel art residency programme.
New uses of retail space for art is definitely on the rise, and Tilo Schulz's installation in the cultural space on top of Louis Vuitton’s store during the Biennale is one of the examples of education and stronger association between brands and art. 

The exhibition references the 19th century Venetian frescoes that have been restored with the company’s help and are displayed in the same room.

Product collaborations are still a big part of many brands’ art strategy. However, recent examples have shifted towards using the inspiration from brands to result in new artworks with less whole product integration. 

For the Biennale, Shiseido's brand 'cle de peau BEAUTE' commissioned a light and sound pavilion inspired by its makeup collection and featuring 90,000 eyeshadow cases. 

Art Basel’s VIP shuttle service provider, BMW, has recently launched the BMW Art Journey, a global initiative that enables selected artists to design a journey of creative discovery to a destination of their choice.  

Brands are also taking on the responsibility to enrich public experience of art by developing new educational content. 

UBS, a longstanding supporter of Art Basel, has launched the Planet Art app, which brings together major contemporary art news. BMW publishes its Art Guide by Independent Collectors, an overview of private yet publicly accessible collections of contemporary art. 

The examples from the global art events highlight the art patronage evolution brands have undergone – from the 'logos' era of sponsorships to more value-added collaborations. 

However, these initiatives were mainly targeted at art fair goers and lacked creative use of digital technologies to reach outside audiences, except for some social media posts on exhibition launches. 

With the growth of visual communication, developing online storytelling projects to bring art experiences to wider audiences is the new challenge art-loving brands need to take up. 

Anastasia Elaeva is a senior account director at Grayling Moscow

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