Interview. Kim Streets, Chief executive of Museums Sheffield

IB: Going Public will bring works from four major European private collections to Sheffield this autumn. It will also be a platform for debate about the current state of philanthropy in the arts. What do you hope Going Public will achieve?

KS: This particular project gives us a real opportunity to learn from European philanthropists, to understand the specificities of philanthropy in France, in Italy, in Germany, and particularly how philanthropy operates outside of capital cities in those countries. It is also an amazing opportunity to bring high quality international art to Sheffield. Today, it is important that museums and galleries outside of London have the opportunity to establish a dialogue with private collectors and philanthropists, to understand what motivates them, what inspires them to work with public galleries.  In the current economic situation, this dialogue is key in order that public galleries understand what they need to do to harness philanthropic support, and to encourage their involvement for the longer term. Going Public is not only a fantastic opportunity for us to learn from collectors and philanthropists, but it will also be a platform to generate debate about the role of private philanthropy for the arts in the Twenty-first Century. It takes a lot of groundwork in order to lay the foundations for a successful public/private relationship and an event like Going Public will help us to understand and define what key elements are needed to build such foundations.

IB: You have been working in Sheffield since 1991, and have witnessed the impact of recent severe governmental cuts to budgets dedicated to art. In the past twenty-five years, how has the relationship between philanthropists and public cultural institutions evolved in Sheffield, and what might have been the key changes?

KS: When I joined Sheffield Museums in the 1990s, we were heavily dependent on public funding from the local authority In the past decade, we have become more adept at securing funding for projects through trusts, foundations and to a lesser extent via individual giving. Museums Sheffield became a charitable trust in 1998 and that allowed us to work independently of the local authority and enabled us to access funding that the local authorities, at that point, couldn’t access. In the sector as a whole, there has been a notable shift from public to private sources for funding and significant effort towards generating income through commercial and fundraising activities to achieve a more balanced ratio between public funding on the one hand and commercial and private funding on the other.

IB: What do you think a healthy and balanced relationship between private and public institutions should be like?

KS: Finding a good balance between private and public is an interesting challenge. If you look back at Sheffield in the 19th and early Twentieth Century, major philanthropists were very much involved in city politics as well as in its development and economic growth and as a result we have a history of strong collaboration between public and private areas of civic life. Throughout the Twentieth Century, such relationships began to dissipate and, as the state stepped up after World War II, the need for public and private collaboration seemed to lessen. Today we need to better understand successful philanthropic models. What is the relationship between the private and public museum? What role does the Fondazione Sandretto re Rebaudengo in Turin have in the city’s strategy for success and how does it work with public art institutions? What can we learn from them, and can we apply similar methods here in Sheffield? The city is already collaborating with business leaders to identify the different ingredients that make Sheffield a great place to live, work, study and invest on a national stage. For example, within the Local Enterprise Partnership, volunteers from both the business and the public sector are working together to plan the economic strategy for the city and the region. I think a similar model should develop around art and culture. We must demonstrate that art is not peripheral and that it can play an instrumental role in economic regeneration and wealth creation. We need to demonstrate the value of art in a Twenty-First Century city in order to begin those conversations between the public sector and the philanthropists of the Twenty-first Century. It is partly about how we demonstrate that value, and how strategic that is – which is something we are interested to hear about from the collectors.

IB: Are there any specific models of cities that you think are interesting to look at?

KS: There are a few cities that stand out. In Liverpool for example, it is interesting to see the impact Tate Liverpool’s positioning in the docklands had in city regeneration. One of the vital ingredients of a successful growth agenda is to have high-quality art and culture right at the heart of it. Of course, this is something you can see in London: national institutions work hand in hand with philanthropists on a major level. I think that this is what we need to be able to develop outside of London.

IB: Going Public is a collaborative endeavour that involves local institutions -Museum Sheffield, Site Gallery, the city’s cathedral and Sheffield Hallam University, but also external partners and funders such as The Henry Moore Foundation, The Arts Council, and Montabonel & Partners. Can collaborations between local, national and international entities make a difference in bringing attention to cities outside of big capitals?

KS: It is important for us that this project is owned by the city. We want Sheffield’s universities, museums, council and businesses to see this project as something that can be instrumental and influential in terms of our growth agenda. Working with partners on a national and international level enables a strategic and focused debate that will move the conversation on.

Interview by: Ines de Bordas