The issue of sponsorship for the arts can be a vexed one (e.g. The Tate in London, The Biennale in Sydney) but one that nevertheless requires some frank discussion. In 2014 we probably all agree that tobacco sponsorship is unwelcome, but it was not that long ago that big tobacco was a major sponsor of the arts in Australia.

People look up to arts institutions, so it is important that they not only foster debate but also act in accordance with principles that stand up to scrutiny. At the very least it should be incumbent on arts institutions to have and disclose policies on accepting or rejecting sponsorship. What factors are considered? How does the institution weigh its artistic, financial and moral imperatives? And where do major arts institutions invest their not inconsiderable endowment funds?

Consideration needs to be given to both the social and environmental implications of sponsorship arrangements. Would the arts community be comfortable receiving funding from coal companies, such as those mining in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria? These coal mines and their associated infrastructure threaten farmlands, forests, coral reefs and communities, and also contribute massively to the carbon emissions that are causing climate change.

These are all hard questions, and acting on principle might cause arts organisations and sponsors some pain. CLIMARTE has even heard stories of arts organisations being refused sponsorship and grants because their program proposals deal with climate change. Strange days indeed.

No longer can we claim ignorance of the implications of our actions. Providing a cultural fig leaf to companies whose business plan involves destroying the planet is just plain wrong. It’s our job to hold arts institutions accountable to the principles that we should, as an arts community, hold dear.

“To know and not act is to not know.” Tao Te Ching, by the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, C6th century BC