George Osborne wants to raise £1 billion for a radical renovation of the British Museum. The plumbing and the electrics are apparently no longer fit for purpose at the 160-year-old building.
How Osborne, the BM’s new chairman, intends to secure the money for his 10-year project is unclear. The sums would wipe out the annual Arts Council budget twice over. The National Lottery might be an option, but only as a down payment. Private donors will have to stump up the bulk of funds.
In the age of Cool Britannia, 20 years ago, private money funded grand projets like Tate Modern. Corporate sponsors have since become leery. The major oil companies are persona non grata. Tobacco is a no-no, as is anyone remotely connected to the defence industry.
Moreover, London’s donors of last resort – the Sacklers – have become pariahs, their name tarnished as a result of the family’s involvement in the opioid scandal in the US. Their names – ubiquitous in galleries in the US and UK – are now being removed.
Since 2009, the Sacklers have given more than £170m to institutions such as Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery and the British Museum. That figure pales alongside the billions made by the family company Purdue Pharma, but it is significant.
In light of the separate campaign against foreign money sloshing around London (which is after all a global financial centre), the original question returns: where is the big money for the arts going to come from?