25 years of arts partnerships

May 2024

Following being awarded Sponsorship Champion status at the UK Sponsorship Awards Rachel Clarke looks back at her 25 years in arts partnerships.


Since winning the award I’ve had some fun ‘looking back’ conversations which I thought I’d share here:


Most memorable moment: Opening of The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson - The Unilever Series at Tate Modern

Unilever sponsored an annual commission in the giant Turbine Hall of the new Tate Modern. It was part of a brand-transformation which included emphasising creativity – and the activation campaign reached audiences from investors to school-children around the globe. Looking back, it was incredibly brave. Each commission was truly innovative, whether it was the engineering required for Anish Kapoor’s Marsyas stretched membrane or Bruce Nauman’s invisible sound commission.

Of course, the most memorable was Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project. I remember being in an empty Turbine Hall on the morning the commission opened, feeling underwhelmed – initial concepts had included snow and swirling wind! Then the doors opened and a group of school children cascaded down the ramp, lay down on the floor to bathe under the electric sun and started playing with their reflections in the mirrored ceiling – and one of the most iconic art works of the 21st century was born.


Most embarrassing moment: Newport State of Mind

Working on the culture and heritage programme as part of the city of Newport’s hosting of the Ryder Cup. Alicia Keys had just released the song ‘New York State of Mind’ and local band Goldie Lookin Chain released a spoof version celebrating the town’s Pizza Hut, X15 bus and closed-down nightclubs which made it onto the tv news. I was convinced this was going to be a reputational disaster and took it all far too seriously - but everyone loved it!


Best sponsorship: HSBC’s Cultural Exchange programme

This was the best because it was totally rooted in the brand and business of ‘the world’s local bank’. The programme was built on the insight that – ‘the first step to doing business with someone is understanding their culture’ and each year we focused on arts from a different country where the bank wanted to grow business – China, India, Brazil and the Middle East. We built a portfolio of sponsorship properties ranging from exhibitions at the V&A and British Museum to a cultural festival at the Southbank Centre at the macro level to smaller poetry exchanges and even falconry.

And the activation programme touched many elements of the business from mass-affluent Premier cardholders with free mojitos to Capital Markets clients with a research report on the Brazilian economy. It engaged the highest-level Corporate Affairs audiences and span out into private banking with a design focus that moved into homes and architecture.


And what’s next?

I’m interested in how some of the fabulous work being done by artists using AI or AR can help businesses explore this topic with clients in new ways. And the serious attention the arts is finally getting around wellbeing and health, and skilling up the workforce of the future – areas like creativity, problem solving, adaptability, socio-cultural awareness … and how great storytelling can inspire new perspectives on sustainability … lots of possibilities!