Why brand should invest in art and creative partnerships

BMW Residency at Paris Photo. Almudena Romero, 10th winner of the BMW Residency, “The Pigment Change” © Florian Leger / SHARE & DARE

There has always been a mutually seductive rapport between art and money. Artists and art institutions need the patronage of businesses to survive, while companies benefits from associating with the arts. Any major creative event will at least have one or two sponsors, the question is how to manage this and how to choose your partnerships wisely to reflect and highlight the brand ethos.

An interesting case study is the BMW Group, who in the last fifty years have sponsored artists, galleries, orchestras and festivals around the world. Today’s list includes Art Basel, Frieze Art, Paris Photo, Art D’Égypte and London Symphony Orchestra. And it is largely up to Thomas Girst and his team at BMW Cultural Engagement to orchestrate the partnerships and choose the artists who best reflect BMW’s brand values. Topics have included exploring virtual and augmented reality, assessing the human/machine relation, and finding commonality between cultures by humanising migration – all pretty heavy topics for a car company to be involved in.

Artwork by Leelee Chan, the ninth BMW Art Journey winner

The two most recent partnerships address the planet. Winner of the 2021 BMW Residency at Paris Photo, Spanish photographer Almudena Romero works with plants as her canvas, using their natural characteristics to determine the final artwork. Her’s is a narrative on the ephemerality of life, critiquing our relationship with nature and our obsession with ownership by making work that disappears in the physical form and remains only in memory. Elsewhere, BMW Art Journey with Art Basel winner Leelee Chan examines how ancient materials and their future substitutes from the fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology inform our debate around ecological and cultural sustainability.

We caught up with Thomas Girst to gauge his thoughts on how best industries and businesses can align with the arts to help boost the creative industries and their own brands.

Why engage with the arts? After all, there is no direct transactional profit for the company in that the investment doesn’t translate to direct car sales.

We would always like to find ourselves on the side where we are creating things that really matter and where we can make a difference. And while it is about the image of the brand and the reputation, it is also about corporate citizenship. It would be obscene to measure this with car sales. With our cultural engagement, we want to open up to a much broader audience.

The late LA artist John Baldessari translating his minimalism to the #19 BMW art car

Art and money have always needed one another, yet not all sponsorships and patronages feel genuine. What would be your advice on the best way to engage with the arts?

There isn’t a manual on corporate cultural management – global guidance for companies to get involved in the arts. You need to define the corners in which you can engage and find some guidelines, so it isn’t throwing money at an institution and them singing your song. The strategy must be based on your company’s values. You cannot fake authenticity. It needs to be something meaningful.

Is this the BMW way?

Yes, this is what I’m after. It has to be a sustainable cultural engagement. Don’t expect too much in the early years. These are long-term investments. And we always make sure the artists we collaborate with are paid for their work as we consider this part of the partnership.

The BMW Art Car #18 by Chinese multimedia artist Cao Fei explores AR and VR

During the pandemic, with live shows suspended, there was an influx of cultural activities happening in the digital sphere with galleries rapidly adapting their systems to provide virtual showrooms and live-streamed discussions with artists, most of which remains in place even as the physical world re-opens. Arguably art is reaching a wider group than ever before but how does this impact on the artists?

There is the notion that everything that happens on social media and online is cost-free. Of course, artists are jumping onto the platform now more than ever, to get their work out and create more visibility. They are making use of technology. But what it does is make that challenge for artists even tougher because people don’t expect to pay for anything when they see a free concert, a free reading, a free installation that one can see online.

Would you agree that there is the danger that many corporations who have financially lost out due to the crisis will drop their arts funding? After all, so many smaller art galleries and cultural institutions tend to rely on such grants.

Yes, absolutely. Institutions will suffer if there is less corporate involvement in the arts.

Zac Langdon-Pole - detail of "Assimilation Study", 2017 © Dirk Pauwels

The global health crisis offers the spur we need to imagine a new world order – rethink our priorities. You could argue that with the menace of death comes a richer focus on the minutes and the moments of life, something your latest artist Almudena Romero has explored so beautifully through her ‘The Pigment Change’ at Paris Photo which is a comment on the ephemerality of life.

Many have been harmed through the pandemic, have lost loved ones, and have lost their businesses. I’d love for people to take what offers meaning in those few months, be it walking in the park, taking time to speak with friends, and save these memories and take them into the future and make them part of who they are. In the art word, I see more of a move towards education-based engagements.

What are your thoughts on the future of the creative industries, the creative class, who have suffered greatly due to the pandemic?

I’ve been concerned that with the pandemic, countries are breaking down into nation-states. But culture is about crossing boundaries. I’m an optimist by nature though. For the past hundreds and thousands of years, art has been created under all circumstances, under all kinds of regimes and with no budget. Whatever shape the arts take, it will always be there. Fewer shows will certainly hurt the galleries and artists. And we won’t be able to experience the beauty of art. But we will get through this.

Emeric Lhuisset's ‘L'autre rive’ for Paris Photo 2019 concludes with a series of fading blue renderings through cyanotype to show the disappearance of civilizations © Emeric Lhuisset

And how has the pandemic impacted on your work?

Let’s take this moment as inspiration and think and act a little bolder. If we look at this episode as a rupture, then it can turn us into better human beings – into more reasonable and sustainable people who treat one another and this planet with more empathy.

Images from top: Photographer Almudena Romero and ‘The Pigment Change’ as part of the 10th BMW Residency, Paris Photo © Florian Leger / Share & Dare; the late artist John Baldessari translating his minimalism to the #19 BMW art car, The BMW Art Car #18 by Chinese multimedia artist Cao Fei explores AR and VR © BMW; Zac Langdon-Pole – detail of “Assimilation Study”, 2017 © Dirk Pauwels; Emeric Lhuisset’s ‘L’autre rive’ for Paris Photo 2019 concludes with a series of fading blue renderings through cyanotype to express the disappearance of civilizations © Emeric Lhuisset; Almudena Romero ‘The Act of Producing’ from ‘The Pigment Change’ 2021 © Almudena Romero.

Spinach Branding is a specialist branding agency based in London. We work with established businesses and start-ups around the world to build and refine their brands. See how we work and get in touch to discuss your brand.

Almudena Romero, 10th winner of the BMW Residency, image from the series “The Act of Producing” from “The Pigment Change”, 2021. © Almudena Romero
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