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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is it Corporate Responsibility to sponsor Arts and Cultural Events?

I recently attended a free theater performance in Washington DC. It was free because it was sponsored by a prominent retailer – a retailer that is known for its strong focus on price. But as I looked around at the other attendees I made the, admittedly subjective, judgment that we were on average a relatively affluent audience. Probably more affluent, on average, than the customers of the sponsoring retailer.

It got me to thinking about the corporate responsibility (CR) implications of the wealth transfer involved from customers of this retailer to me. I guess I could write to Randy Cohen, Ethicist at the New York Times and ask him if I should pay for my ticket anyway. If I were him I would probably tell me that I don’t need to, but that if it made me feel better I should make a donation to the theater.

But of course that isn’t really the point. The point is whether it is CR to sponsor arts and culture, especially for a company that draws customers from less affluent market sectors, to support theater attendance for a more affluent audience.

I don’t think it is CR, but I am struggling to define exactly what would define CR in this context. CR is certainly not defined by spreading the wealth from the affluent to the less affluent. For it to be CR the sponsor would need to be able to demonstrate a broader community benefit. Are attendees likely to be those who would otherwise not be able to attend for reason of cost and is there a demonstrable and sustainable community benefit of arts and cultural programming.

Otherwise it is marketing and PR spend. And that’s fine too. If the business benefit is equal, it still better to spend the dollars promoting culture than on product ads.

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