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  1. Impact Philanthropy
March 4, 2014updated 11 Jan 2016 2:51pm

Giver and the Gift: Why BMW is driving charitable funds towards the Tate Modern

By Spear's

Author: Spear’s Editorial

The Giver

Thomas Girst (pictured above, left)

Head of cultural engagement at BMW Group

Smart Cars

The BMW Group, which makes BMWs, Minis and Rolls-Royces, has been supporting the arts for over 40 years, ranging from commissioning paintings for its lobby from Gerhard Richter to partnering Tate Modern in its performance art programme.

Partners in time

We don’t like to speak of sponsorship as much as collaboration or partnership or co-initiative, which means that we hope it’s not only about forking money over from A to B and thus becoming an interchangeable cash-cow.

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It is more about being a reliable, authentic partner in the arts who never interferes with content or programme but who brings to the table an experience and a network within the arts which any cultural institution can benefit from.

BMW Group considers itself a premium car manufacturer, which is why we join with premium cultural institutions, so it made so much sense for us to be involved with Tate Modern.

Tate Modern has set itself up as an institution that’s ready for the 21st century. It has redefined itself to be not only an institution of authority, but also an institution that allows for the spectator to be a contributor as well. It doesn’t dictate — it invites. It certainly helped that Chris Dercon was a museum director here in Munich, although he is still missed.

Acting out

We came to performance art because we were looking for something new.

I find it tremendously interesting that in the past few years, in the field of Contemporary art, performance has made a big impact. That has to do, among other reasons, with the alienation of the human being within the lifestyle of social media. There’s a rejuvenated interest in the real that you cannot only see but also experience and maybe smell.

With their addition of The Tanks, Tate Modern was the first museum to really incorporate rooms for performance into the museum itself. Modern art has been defined as something that thrives within the white cube and there were no rooms that were thought of as being engineered for performance, and the Tate now has them.

Everyone benefits

It’s hard for me to talk about gain for the company — it’s like nailing jelly to the wall. But it would also be negligent to say that our engagement is based on altruistic reasons or is done for philanthropy only. It’s clearly done for the reputation of the company and its brand. It’s clearly done for the positive visibility of a company operating outside its core business to return something to the society it is successfully doing business in.

I would like to think that especially when it comes to London, when it comes to our partnerships with the London Symphony Orchestra, Frieze and Tate Modern, that we make a cultural difference.

Our gifts, ourselves

For cultural support, I would steer clear of the term ‘important’ and would argue for the term ‘essential’. First of all, the way that companies are being looked at from the outside has changed over the past ten years — it is no longer about the shareholder approach only, it is about the stakeholder approach.

It is about how you perceive a company as a corporate citizen: what does it do? How does it behave? How does it function? What is its mindset? That has become essential, crucial. It is important that you have a strategy in place for what you do and how you engage, and how that becomes meaningful and isn’t something where you hop from event to event and put your logo everywhere. That is not how things should be done nowadays.

Not a popularity contest

If we talk about the idea of the partnership in the cultural realm, it means, yes, you can provide the platforms for things that might be controversial or that might not be liked and loved by everyone simultaneously. No art can ever achieve that. Culture is not set up to do this sort of thing.

While it is essential for a company to get involved there, it is also essential for a company to behave with the right sensibilities. I’d encourage companies to do much more in that vein.

The Gift

Chris Dercon (pictured top, right)

Director of Tate Modern

Let us give tanks

In 2012, Tate Modern opened The Tanks, giant underground oil reservoirs once used by the building when it was a power station,
as ‘the world’s first museum galleries permanently dedicated to exhibiting live art, performance, installation and film works’.

Start your engines

As with most innovative sponsors, BMW don’t like just to have their logo on something; they really want to try something new which they can benefit from and the recipient can benefit from. What Tate Modern stands for is like BMW: mobility.

Second, BMW knew what we were going to use The Tanks for, which is about the live aspect of art today. The live aspect has to do with dance, has to do with performance, often has to do with lectures, with speech, with creating meetings and dialogue. Instead of the hard place of the museum, it’s the soft place — the museum as soft meeting place.

Back chat

We have 5 million visitors a year, but 18 million visit us digitally. With the BMW Tate Live journey, we wanted to reach out to a much wider world by inviting performers to conceive a performance in one room for a camera which could then be broadcast live to recipients all over the world, and after the performance they could start to talk back to the producers, to the curators and to the makers.

We also do these performances for BMW where we invite a live public, we record the performance and it’s broadcast through the world.

What a performance!

In the Seventies, Britain was one of the groundbreaking countries for performance. Since then there’s been so much going on in terms of dance.

When you think about what Sadler’s Wells, what the Dance Umbrella has been doing, when you think of companies like Michael Clark, this country is famous for performance. One of the greatest successes here was during the Olympics, the last Unilever commission by Tino Sehgal.

People are fed up of connotating visual arts with only objects — objects which can easily be commodified — and people want to talk about subjective experiences again, where you don’t need the objects but it’s all about the transmitting of experiences.

What’s more beautiful than a body moving in space, than a body being choreographed in space? What’s more beautiful than somebody dancing in space?

The long and short of it

Philanthropy makes things possible which are not normally possible any more, which are incredibly time-consuming and very expensive to do. In order to make something small really convincing, you need a lot of input in terms of finance and technique and human resource.

BMW’s five-year gift makes it possible to think long-term because the difference between BMW and other sponsors is that BMW didn’t want to do it once or twice. Long-term thinking is also a form of sustainability, which is something BMW are interested in.

By committing to a five-year term, BMW is among a small number of sponsors who are setting new parameters for partnerships.

One reason manufacturers are so interested in the arts is that we are specialists in subjective experiences. We are specialists in change management because art is disruption, a constant form of disruption, and doing things differently, and also we are specialists in decision-making processes: it’s very important for an artist to say, ‘Well, I now consider my piece finished,’ or to say it’s good enough or to say it has to be red instead of green.

Go your own way

Dancers and performers like the museum because it doesn’t have a fourth wall, it doesn’t have a stage situation, there is not the regime of the theatre.

It has very much to do with a different setting where, because the public is in the museum, they are a participant doing things in their own way. And doing things in your own way is a beautiful motto for what we have been doing and still are doing with BMW Tate Live.

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