The Venice Report 2024: Purpose, Networks and Innovation

1st May 2024

The structures and systems that shape the art world globally face a pivotal moment of redefining their purpose and embracing global networks to foster innovation. That transformative journey towards a more dynamic and interconnected cultural sector was brought to life at this year’s Venice Art Biennale under the theme ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ and underscored by Bank of America’s State of the Arts Venice roundtable, which was facilitated by Boster Group. Against the backdrop of multiple global trends—from the rise of nationalism to the urgency of the climate crisis—cultural leaders from across the corporate sector, government, and cultural institutions convened to foster a global dialogue on building sustainable creative communities.

This conversation was a platform for some of the leading voices across the art world to connect, share insights, and explore collaborative solutions that transcend traditional boundaries like geography and media. With a focus on the role of partnerships and purpose, this roundtable explored the opportunities for cultural leaders to navigate opportunities and challenges collectively, forging a path towards a more resilient and impactful cultural ecosystem.

We are delighted to share some of these learnings, experiences, insights and anecdotes. At Boster Group, we believe in the power of partnerships to drive impact, innovation and value, and one of the most valuable things partners can share with each other is knowledge.

Designing (and re-designing) for purpose

One participant – the head of a significant museum with an audience which is 70% international visitors – opened our conversation by talking about the ‘golden trap’ of their institution, which is that its prominence and popularity with international visitors could lead to it becoming a tourist attraction more than a museum which embodies local relevance. To avoid that, institutions need to change the design of their operations and curation – even their buildings – to better embrace the needs and lived experience of their local communities. For example, the Louvre has capped its daily ticket sales at 30,000 since COVID to enable a better experience at the museum and a smoother flow around key masterpieces like the Mona Lisa. More dramatically, LACMA took the decision to re-build its space from the ground up to enable greater diversity and inclusion – allowing them to better fulfil their purpose, which is explicitly social. The decision is built on the idea that museums tend to follow European structures and expectations, constricting curation and audience experience to a distinctly Western hierarchy determined by the buildings they are in. The new concept for LACMA consciously upsets that hierarchy, and prioritising flexibility and decentralisation to better reflect the county it represents.

As museums undergo a profound shift in mentality towards fostering collaboration and inclusivity, the implications are far-reaching and transformative. This departure from traditional models towards a more collaborative approach signals a fundamental reimagining of the role museums play within their communities and the broader cultural landscape – increasing the necessity of cross-sector partnerships and fundamentally changing the role that different sectors can play in creating and curating art by changing who is designed (physically and metaphorically) to have access to it. This ‘networked’ approach is also heavily influenced by new technologies that enable greater collaboration and access when invested in over the long term.

“We need that right now – more porousness, more exchange, less hierarchy, less centrality and more of a network.”

Supporting local needs feeds a global footprint

That systemic shift in the art world reflects concepts of designing for intentional inclusivity reflected in the practice of architects like Sumayya Vally, whose 2021 Serpentine Pavilion included pieces located across the city of London, designed with hyper-local relevance in mind. It was also reflected across the Biennale, where many national pavilions embraced highly specific, local narratives – often by queer, underrepresented and indigenous artists – in order to draw connections and create bridges between cultures, practices and experiences. This was the core meaning of this year’s theme, ‘Foreigners Everywhere’: that wherever one goes, there are foreigners, and wherever one is, they are a foreigner on some level. It is our specific and unique ‘foreign-ness’ which is our single greatest connection to the world around us.

“These narrative shifts allow us to understand the ‘here’… in the context of a [local] sense of identity, but also the ‘there’, which is the ways in which these dialogues can happen anywhere, as in the Giardini.”

What we may find the art world confronting over the next two years is that our concepts of ‘local’ and ‘global’ are as vague as the concept and etymology of ‘foreign’. They are, as one roundtable participant put it, more ideological than geographical concepts. This means that partnerships which feed both the local – e.g., through smaller, bespoke programming – and the global, e.g., through scale and media, will be critical to a flourishing and sustainable art world.

Trust enables innovation

The art world’s existing funding models do not typically permit much investment in the long-term, systemic changes discussed above. Most global museums – especially in the US and UK, where government support for the arts is dwindling – run significant deficits which they depend on private funders, such as donors and corporate partners, to bridge. Donors and corporate partners, however, typically expect to see results in the short-term; the concept of ‘move fast and break things’ which drives so much innovation in the private sector and creates long-term results cannot be supported by existing financial structures in the arts, which often prioritise stability and short-term success over risk-taking. This is where partners with long-lasting relationships and established trust – like Bank of America, who spent $32million in support of arts and culture in 2023 – can create opportunities through long-term structured finance like the Arts Impact Fund, which Bank of America played a pivotal role in launching. As one participant mentioned, many funders were forced to change their behaviour in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; acting swiftly and in response to what their arts partners needed, as opposed to what the funders wanted to prioritise. Now funders are beginning to see the benefits of that approach, which often meant offering unrestricted funding on the basis of a long-term, trusted relationship. For partners across the arts, the key to leaning into a new structure for collaboration and problem-solving is in building trust which enables longer-term commitments and more risk-taking.

“In difficult situations, you have to listen and operate with a sense of reciprocity.

The evolution of the art world towards redefining purpose, embracing networks, and fostering innovation represents a pivotal moment in the arts. By leveraging cross-sector partnerships and prioritising the creation of global and local shared value, institutions and creatives alike are poised to navigate the complexities of the modern world with resilience and creativity. As they continue to cultivate trust, embrace innovation, and foster collaboration, we can all look forward to a more sustainable, inclusive, and vibrant cultural ecosystem.