Thursday, April 03, 2008

UBS and the arts

From Bloomberg News: "A day after posting a first-quarter loss of 12 billion Swiss francs ($11.9 billion), UBS AG, Europe's biggest bank by assets, defended its sponsorship of the London Symphony Orchestra, which runs until 2010. 'To pull out at a time like this would be terribly easy, but I would say that if we did that, our reputation would be shot,' said Richard Hardie, non-executive vice chairman of UBS Ltd."

This goes beyond funding a few seasons. "UBS helps train music teachers, and has professional musicians play for classrooms in the East London area of Hackney. That program is now being extended to 10 different London boroughs, with 50 young instrumentalists getting special tuition at its expense. LSO musicians give concerts once a month inside the bank's headquarters."

When I first read about the UBS losses, the first thing I thought of was the UBS art collection. It's extensive: "With about 75,000 employees worldwide, there are countless walls to decorate, says the company's amusingly forthright Dr Petra Arends, the collection's executive director. In all, UBS owns more than 40,000 works, many inherited from the brokerage firm Paine Webber, which UBS bought for $12 billion in 2000." And, according to Arends, it's always on display somewhere: "'More or less everything is installed. Our policy is that we do not want to have art in storage.'"

None of this is unusual for banks: "'Chase has more than 50,000 works. I believe Deutsche Bank has a similar number....I don’t know the Goldman Sachs collection, and I don’t know a lot about the Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase collections, but I know that they are huge."

It will be interesting to see how the music programs, the exhibits and the Art Basel sponsorship hold up. Unlike a sports or stadium sponsorship, corporate arts involvement has usually been immune to criticism. If I were an artist, I'd be rooting hard for some kind of economic/capitalist/fat cat/miracle turnaround here. Because UBS seems like a much more agreeable benefactor than the government.


Suniverse said...

I'd way rather they spend money on art than on stadiums and most especially on management consultants.

Irene Done said...

There's something about stadium sponsorships (and consultants) that can really alienate people in a way other sponsorship deals don't. I wonder if it has to do with how we all feel about sports (high ticket prices? overpaid athletes? using government funds to build stadiums?) or with how we feel about the company in question.

Suniverse said...

I think part of it for me is that there is less corporate ego involved in creating an art collection - for the most part, you aren't going to see the Texaco Frito Lay Pop Art Collection like you do with stadiums.

Also, I like art more than I do sports.