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Corporate donors put spotlight on schools;Focus on the arts

Arts sponsors are no longer simply interested in high-profile events, grassroots community projects can benefit too. Stephen Hoare reports

Corporate sponsorship remains a key source of funding for the arts, with companies keen to snap up a high-profile event and capitalise on an excellent public relations platform. But it is not the sole preserve of the country's major events and often combines a community dimension that involves students in public performances of plays, concerts, dance or exhibitions of the visual arts.

Lloyds TSB this year took Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona to 50 schools and colleges in a 15-week spring tour. The GCSE set-text play was tackled in a morning theatre workshop and an afternoon performance by actors from the Royal National Theatre. The tour was part of Lloyds TSB Live!, a pound;1 million annual programme of school events that includes hands-on experimental music sessions in a touring bus and rugby coaching.

Sainsbury's, too, is involved in school sponsorship, offering two visual arts education packages, "Pictures for Schools" and "Faces of the Century". The supermarket chain presents schools with four high-quality reproductions of famous paintings, selected for their educational relevance, and background learning materials.

Sponsorship like this is channelled through an organisation called Arts amp; Business (formerly the Association of Business Sponsorship of the Arts), which has 300 member firms and links with more than 700 arts organisations. It claims UK businesses invested pound;115 million in arts sponsorship last year - 20 per cent more than previous years. Spokesman Paul Brown says: "We encourage businesses to sponsor schools and colleges. There is lots of cross-over between community-based arts projects and education."

Ian Pearce, director of Business in the Community, supports this. "We see it as best practice that business sponsorship of the arts includes artists giving performances in schools or making free or highly-subsidised tickets available for school parties. When Whitbread sponsored the Royal Philharmonic it was on condition that they worked with schools - it's a gift in kind."

And last autumn Culture Minister, Chris Smith, announced a one-off pound;5 million Arts Council fund for young people who have few opportunities to enjoy the arts, such as inner-city pupils. The cash is helping to bring in further business sponsorship to top-up initiatives to encourage disadvantaged young people to participate in arts events.

Arts amp; Business, Nutmeg House, 60 Gainsford Street, Butler's Wharf, London SE1 2NY; Tel: 0171 378 8143; website www.AandB.org.uk. Arts Council of England, 14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ; Tel: 0171 973 0100; website www.artscouncil.org.uk

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