tue 23/07/2024

theartsdesk Q&A: Arts Patron Jonathan Moulds | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Arts Patron Jonathan Moulds

theartsdesk Q&A: Arts Patron Jonathan Moulds

He lends his priceless violins to young virtuosos, he backs the LSO - now top financier wants to convince others

Business and art: Jonathan Moulds and violinist Nicola Benedetti who plays his Stradivariuses

Critical, urgent, hard - those are the three words used about the challenge to get the rich to pay more for the arts by the new man at the tiller. He should know. Jonathan Moulds, European President at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, is one of the super-successful, super-wealthy financiers to whom the Cameron government is desperately looking to pick up the slack as they cut back public spending.

What the government hopes for is modern-day Medicis - arts patrons who use their wealth to back orchestras, performers, theatres and educational projects - and lots of them. The lobby group for this campaign is Arts & Business, and its function has never been more critical, urgent and hard than it is now, in Moulds' words.

Moulds is the new chairman of A&B's campaign to drive investment into music, drama, theatre, visual arts, dance, film, into performance and into creativity. He himself is a pattern arts patron. He has numerous roles supporting the London Symphony Orchestra, as a Board member, generating large cheques for it, sponsoring its principal clarinet. He also provides a priceless violin for the LSO's leader, Roman Simovic, to play. In fact, it is only one of several priceless violins, Stradivarius, Guadagnini, Guarneri, that Moulds owns and lends to bright new violin talents on the world stage.

However, Moulds knows he is unusual, and not only because he is, at 45, one of the most able and successful financiers on the planet. His job as Bank of America President (Europe, Middle East, Africa) has been dubbed "President of the Rest of the World". He is also Chief Executive Officer of Merrill Lynch International. He is a vivid, clean-cut man with a faint transatlantic twang to his voice, and no Yorkshire in it despite his Halifax roots. He works 12-hour days from 7am to 7pm, spends most evenings with clients and potential patrons, works out in his gym - and plays the violin rather well. It's thanks to his hinterland of childhood violin and piano lessons that as he rose like a rocket through corporate finance in his twenties, he decided to use his burgeoning millions to patronise the arts.

But can he persuade his peers? As the wails rise in the public theatres and dance companies, slain or wounded by the large cuts in Arts Council subsidy in motion over the next three years, Moulds knows that he and his circle can't pick up what the Arts Council does, because they move in a different world, with different priorities, following their personal passions with money and expertise, providing above all the glistening crop that makes Britain's best arts truly world-beaters. But he thinks business can and must do more, and last week he met theartsdesk to talk about this.

Photographs of his eight-year-old twin daughters sit alongside one of the promising American schoolboy violinist Chad Hoopes, who plays a 1713 Stradivarius supplied by Moulds. Nicola Benedetti, Scotland's gift to violin-playing, is about to swap the 1723 Strad that she's been playing, thanks to Moulds' patronage, for another from his collection. Chad Hoopes' compatriot, 19-year-old Caroline Goulding, is another rising young soloist with a Moulds fiddle under her chin, a 1720 Stradivarius, and Russian-German violinist Alissa Margulis, 31, plays his 1754 Guadagnini. Moulds' interest is particular - but as he told me, the campaign to reach the hearts and minds of wealthy business folk can't be that particular: it has to aim at just getting them to give more, generally.

He talked of the "mindset" that he feels he has to change among his peers, to persuade them to give more - and to get good value out of it - of the impossibility of private patrons taking on the planning role and less visible strata of public funding, and of the long shadow of the Olympics which have already had first call on potential sponsors' attention. He talked of his own love of music, and of the privileges that his approach to collecting violins has brought him. It was evident from all of this that Moulds is possibly too accomplished and rounded a person for there to be many of him around. But it's also evident that the Bank of America supremo is the best possible person to be trying to change the minds of the hugely rewarded, to show them the gentler benefits to the soul as well as the smart commercial ones of arts patronage at this time of economic hardship.

First, some key numbers to map out the world in which this new balance needs negotiating (patronage figures from Arts & Business).

  • British arts are funded more by private patronage than public money - currently around £2 private to £1 public
  • In 2010/11 private arts patronage overall, including individual donors, trusts and foundations, rose by £28.5million to £686million
  • Arts Council funding was reduced by £71million last year to just under £450million, with a £61million further cut in grants scheduled by 2014
  • The cut in public spending for last year was some £42million greater than the rise in private patronage - £71million lost, £28.5million gained
  • Individual donors gave more than half of the private money, £382million - up £23million on the previous year
  • Companies' donations fell £10million to £134million - the lowest since 2003/4
  • Trusts and foundations' investment was £170million, an increase of £15million
  • Private money favoured London increasingly, with 71 percent going to the capital, up from 68 percent the previous year. South-west and south-east England lost most
  • Private patrons preferred to fund past arts, rather than contemporary or performing arts. Heritage funding rose to £246million and museums to £109million - accounting for half of all private arts donations

Now see the Q&A with Jonathan Moulds on next page

moulds violinists goulding hoopes margulis simovicThanks to Moulds, Caroline Goulding, Chad Hoopes, Alissa Margulis and Roman Simovic play priceless violins

ISMENE BROWN: Where did your interest in arts start?

JONATHAN MOULDS: I played the violin and piano when I was at school, and it was kind of a passion. I did think at some point I might maybe take music as a career. Then I thought, actually (a) I'm not that good, (b) I could probably do other things better. I grew up in the north of England, Halifax, Yorkshire - I went to school a mile from where I lived. Then went to university in Cambridge [he studied maths and music]. Then down to London.

When did you first think of getting into arts patronage?

I would guess, probably when I was in my mid-20s, late 20s. I'm in an industry where if you're good at what you do, you get paid relatively well. It's a whole different ballgame from that point of view. But for me, to work hard at what I do and then give something back… that's a privilege. One of the first things I got involved with on a major scale was the London Symphony Orchestra. I became very good friends with [LSO's then managing director] Clive Gillinson - now Sir Clive Gillinson.

Was it that you felt personal about an orchestra? As a violinist you could identify with it, you could see what they might need?

Yes, I think one can. And also I think that in this country more broadly a lot of people see arts as nice to have, rather than necessary to have.

And you don't agree?

It's not just altruism. We think helping from a broad philanthropic, educational, cultural perspective is good business too.

And I don't agree. When arts are used broadly, from the education and outreach point of view there's a tremendous amount you can do. The major arts organisations - which might be the LSO but are also others - can make a big, big impact through outreach. I spend a fair amount of my time in the States, spent eight to 10 years of my career over there. The attitude to giving there is different, more constructive. And the tax rules are more encouraging, certainly in terms of legacy. So a number of arts organisations actually get pretty well funded, certainly at the very top level. But for me - if you look at what the Bank of America Merrill has done here - when I came from the US back to the UK one thing I really wanted to bring over was this: what Bank of America does very well is it works with local communities. It's not just altruism. We think helping from a broad philanthropic, educational, cultural perspective is good business too. So I think you can get a pretty healthy balance where everybody benefits.

You see the value of that, but how easy is it to purvey that attitude to other business people who may not have played the violin as a child?

Very hard! Very hard. I think some people get it. For me, it's easier if the person trying to sell the concept is very passionate about it, whatever it is. But I think raising money, raising awareness of the arts, across the whole spectrum of what it is, from performing arts to drama, is quite hard. Particularly in a challenged economic environment when there are so many other social problems.

When you came in as chairman of the Arts & Business leadership campaign in January, you said: "We need to have a new debate which is harder, more critical and more urgent." I wondered who you felt were the protagonists of that debate. Government, business, presumably?

I agree. I think it's a combination of people who can be like-minded within big industry and the government too. But what I'm doing with Arts & Business is to get around the table a number of senior individuals who can be thought leaders and are interested in the broad idea. Try to bring in guests from DCMS, obviously, and sit around and talk about how we can do this.

Over what timescale? There appears to be higher private patronage than public subsidy in UK arts: private patronage is estimated at £658million a year and Arts Council subsidy is currently under £450million, with a £70million cut scheduled in the next four years. But private patronage was reported by A&B last year to have gone down slightly - you can't predict it, so how do you plan longterm?

I think it's tough. In the challenged environment we're in you can see the trend. The environment is pretty tough.

Is it a short-term toughness, or can you see funding returning to the previous balance by 2016? A number of leading arts figures [they include Sir Richard Eyre, Alastair Spalding of Sadler's Wells, the RSC's Michael Boyd, etc] have been pleading with the government to know that after three to four hard years things would gradually be restored to existing levels, or at least trend back there. Do you see that happening? Or is there a structural, philosophical change actually going on longterm that future governments will have to buy into?

I think it's going to be quite a long period of time before we get into a healthier environment. There's a whole series of debates going on in this new environment, not just in the arts. As the world economies have rumbled out, Asia has done very well, thank you, and parts of the emerging world, but outside the East I think you've got a tough backdrop. However, even in that context there's a lot of education you can do with people.

Education in terms of the business community?

In terms of the business community as well. If you take this organisation here [Bank of America Merrill Lynch], I think there's a good balance we can find in a lot of cultural and philanthropic projects that actually benefit our business. Actually a number of people here get very enthusiastic about it, volunteer time for it - which is important. We're one of the bigger organisations who do this, and I think we've found some very good results all the way across. I don't want the impact to be elitist. I want it to be felt in communities, or in schools, or in terms of people having access to exhibitions, or access to concerts, or access to the Royal Opera House for a cinema programme. It's about broadening out access.

moulds & mayor's fund for young musiciansAbove: Moulds also sponsors the Mayor of London's Fund for Young Musicians

Given that many arts patrons are not that arts-aware it tends to be the access that they go for enabling, social projects, educational projects. What worries me as an arts-lover and dance critic is that the actual arts themselves, the middle part which fosters the small and new, which introduces the burgeoning talent to the major league - which is what public funding is intended to do, and is done in some European cities very well - that middle part of the structure isn't so solid any more. With private patrons taking over one worries that these more backgroundy projects and nurturing don't get funded, on which the excellent stuff will rise.

I think that probably is true. But bear in mind that for me too a fair amount of this is learning. I look on my role as being passionate about doing this sort of stuff, passionate about engaging other people who are like-minded, or even open-minded at all. And also for me to some extent a learning experience. But it's not like a lot of people have already learned to deliver it!

Do you feel that the great work of public subsidy has been done and that this shift over to private patronage is now overdue?

Even though the LSO is one of the top orchestras globally, it is still hard to get individuals to step up significantly for it

I don't know. We do need to encourage more individuals to come up. I chair the development committee of the LSO, and even though I'd argue that it's one of the top orchestras globally, it is still hard to get individuals to step up significantly for it. Luckily we have a great number of very passionate supporters but there is still more to be done.

The LSO still has nearly £2.4million annual subsidy, so clearly this public money is incredibly important.

It is absolutely vital.

Orchestras would collapse without it, but is there a sense of a loss of dynamism with public subsidy? It encourages laziness in a way, some say.

I think it's probably a generational shift. It takes time. It takes a fair amount of time. I think probably organisations can do more to be a little bit more proactive, but there are ways to incentivise organisations to do more to be creative, and therefore ultimately bridge that gap.

How much do you worry about how the American private model will translate over here? When I've interviewed American artists they fall over in envy at the public subsidy model of Britain.

Well, I guess it's a fact of life there. You take as many things out of public funding into private funding as you can, but the more successful you are at private funding, the harder it is to get the balance between that and public funding. I suppose you can be almost too successful for your own good in terms of the ability to raise from the private sector.

Especially if they all go for the one kind of project!

Yes. But that hasn't happened yet here. We'll deal with that problem when it happens.

But presumably it matters to you that the private and public funding join up, that that conversation is held.

Conceptually it matters, and in terms of success and of getting the leverage, it has to happen. But in reality I cannot tell you the extent it's happening. You probably have a better idea than I do, because I'm relatively new to this bridge, if you like. This is probably a conversation we need to have in 12 months when I've got a sense of how successful or otherwise we've been in trying to change any of the mindset. But in terms of getting people around the table and talking about how we can do better, in many respects that is a plan to start with.

Before you joined A&B they put out a wish-list - asking the government to provide tax reforms, a matching programme private-public partnership funding. Can you explain the tax changes you want to see? Is that one of the most important things to attract business support?

We need to create a different mindset to giving but the government needs to make sure of the tax benefits to individuals for doing it

People talk about tax reforms, but as far as I understand it, in terms of getting tax relief if you're earning, on an ongoing basis you can do that pretty successfully.  But I think the differences in the American model are in terms of making significant legacies and making big bequests, where the tax benefits are not so attractive here. I think the tax benefits need to be competitive with other types of giving - you need a level playing field. But again you're also needing some kind of longer-term educational process here, with arts organisations who have individuals who are vocal and effective and champion a diverse range of projects, and who speak up for why they're doing it.

Does the government have any conversation with you at all about this? Are they listening on the tax issue?

I wouldn't want to say whether they don't or they do. I have been at various roundtable discussions with [Culture Secretary] Jeremy Hunt and others where the same themes are raised - which are that, yes, we need to create a different mindset to giving, but part of that is that the government needs to make sure of the tax benefits to individuals for doing it. That should include giving works of art or violins or other things without having to sell them for cash. I have some longterm philanthropic projects that I would like to work on, but it's actually quite hard for me to work out how I do it effectively to maximise the end gain for the charity, as opposed to selling liquid assets at lower prices, and then having to start right from the base again.

You talked about it being hard to find open-minded, let alone like-minded people in business, and inevitably a big company only gets involved because of a passionate individual. If one passionate individual moves between companies the giving moves around.

You think I should move around!

Possibly! But in the business world one would imagine that it's clear that experiencing art - as you have yourself - has contributed a great deal to people being more effective in many ways.

Yes, I do think that. If you look at children, learning a musical instrument certainly seems to improve their concentration and discipline, and ultimately it adds to their later life. I was privileged to learn two instruments when I was small. It's a good discipline for the mind, it's a good skill to have, and you come to appreciate music, or art, or ballet or whatever.

moulds lso compositeAbove: Moulds and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO picture courtesy Askonas/Holt)

At the LSO you also sponsor the clarinet chair… do you play clarinet?

No, it's because I happen to like the guy! If you have to identify which chair to sponsor, violins are a little boring, and Andrew [Marriner] is a great clarinettist, passionate about what he does, and he and I are good friends.

The violins you collect - do you have a large collection?

I do have quite a lot of Stradivarius violins. I won't say how many.

Are they all out being played? Are you advised which to play on and which ones should be sleeping, as it were?

I have a number in vaults. Some of that is because there are violins which are spectacular from a preservation aspect. People do argue how many Strads are in existence out there [estimates range to about 500], but a large percentage of them are in museums. And a number of the others are either in foundation or institution hands. But where I can, if I can find a quality of artist who can play the instrument, so that it's heard and it makes a difference to their career, I will.

Currently who plays your violins?

Nicola Benedetti, the LSO leader Roman Simovic, Chad Hoopes, Caroline Goulding, Alissa Margulis. There's a whole list of them who have great instruments.

To me to have a great instrument renovated so that people can hear it being played is a privilege. We're just keepers for the next generation

When did you get involved with Nicola?

Actually Nicky told me last night I'd known her five and a half years. [Benedetti won the BBC 2004 Young Musician of the Year competition, aged 16.] She's just about to switch violins to another of mine, a mid-golden period Stradivarius, a fantastic instrument.

Are you a good enough player yourself to know which one you like most?

Yes, I know what I like, but it doesn't mean that it's "the best" or that Nicky or Josh Bell or whoever responds to them in the same way that I do. With that level of artwork it's wholly subjective. But some of the violins are also different dimensions, they are different models, and there's a practical aspect - some people prefer something slightly smaller or slightly larger.

What was the first time you lent one out?

About 10 years ago.

Was it always your intention when you collected them to lend them?

Yes. Some of them, yes. I probably have as big a collection as anybody but there are people out there whose violins either just sit in the case or they get them out to show off to people, but they don't do much with them, they don't get heard.  I have some violins that may be being worked on and renovated - you can still take a violin worth millions of dollars and still do work on it to make it as perfect as you can. But to me to have a great instrument renovated so that people can hear it being played is a privilege. Because in many cases these instruments are 300 or more years old. We're just keepers for the next generation.

And it was a great time when virtually all arts happened under private patronage… Looking ahead, what would be the one thing you'd most like to get across?

I think more can be done, it's a mindset. Obviously there's tremendous wealth in London, but there's also a tremendous disparity of wealth

I suppose the theme I'd like to get over is the broader one that there are actually a lot of people in a position where they can give, and not just to the arts. People who have significant amount of resources. Now, a lot of people do give, but I think there's probably more that can be done. My passion happens to be arts, but whether it's arts or some other type of giving I think more can be done, it's a mindset. Obviously there's tremendous wealth in London, but there's also a tremendous disparity of wealth in London. And personally I feel that if you're in a privileged position and give something back to whatever you're passionate about - it doesn't have to be arts, though I'd love to see the arts benefit - that would be tremendous.

What look comes into people's eyes when you put this to them?

A lot of people get there. And I think once people get involved, they find they enjoy it. It's like any kind of volunteering. Unless people get encouraged to do it, a lot of people don't do it. One of the reasons that people become attracted to doing something is because they know somebody who is very passionate about what they do. For me, going back about 15 or 17 years, one reason I got involved with the LSO was - it was a very good orchestra, and clearly as somebody trying to be a violinist this is the top of the tree - but I also happened to date somebody senior in the development side of the organisation who played the oboe in a local orchestra. And so I met Clive [Gillinson], who was passionate. And that level of proximity starts it off.

Do you put in a lot of time at the LSO? You've got a lot of jobs there.

I just don't do any of them well! No, I'd like to help where I can. The LSO know my limitations in terms of the fact that I've got a day job and they want me to go on being effective at it. It is what it is. But you can't tie up every evening… I think the challenge that I have is that at this point there's a finite pool of money and you get the same faces...

...who get fed up!

I do get asked to chair a number of different things. And I have to say to them, honestly, you don't want me to chair it, because I've got other things on and the pool is finite, and also I don't want to get into conflicts between the things I support, you want to be as successful as you can with all your organisations.

Do you think the Olympics are going to hurt arts patronage? Will business people go for sports instead?

I can get access to a lot of CEOs, and they've said, look, it's great it's on the radar, but this year could be tough, with the Olympics

I think in the short term a number of larger companies have clearly finite budgets, and they may get compartmentalised.  I mean, these are the invitations for this company here for the Opening Ceremony [Moulds indicated a folder nearby] and these things are pretty damn expensive. All I will tell you is that away from the LSO I've been trying to raise money for another project. And I can get access to a lot of CEOs in key companies downwards, and they've said, look, it's great it's on the radar, but this year could be tough, with the Olympics. So it has happened. But then earlier today I spent time with a financial consultancy, that we do business with and the LSO have been trying to get involved, and he was saying, I didn't realise the LSO Premier scheme was so effective.

What good does it do Merrill Lynch to be involved with the LSO?

It's because the LSO travels as an ambassador worldwide. The LSO does a lot of concerts outside the UK. It goes to Hong Kong, the Middle East, the US - it couldn't be a better ambassador. The recognition with clients is very important.

So it shouldn't be that difficult to get business supporting this.

Clearly there are enough companies that are global, with technology what it is, and that trend is going to continue. So I think there are enough organisations who, once they get involved in this sort of thing, will think, hey, this is quite good, this works well. It's getting people over the hurdle.

They're afraid? That they won't "get" arts?

Yes. But also there may be times when… it takes two to tango. Arts organisations need to be sure to keep their supporters involved. I don't think the LSO is like this at all, it does do a very good job of making supporters feel part of the LSO family, but there are organisations out there where you make a donation, and they rather take it for granted. They don't encourage you, and then it becomes an issue of, why didn't you give me another £50,000 for next year? And there are parts of the UK that do it well, but the US, in terms of giving the service, pulling people in, maximising the relationship, that's where I think the UK can learn.

What's your perfect evening out in the arts?

One of the things I take a lot of pride in is that because I have a lot of instruments I know a lot of talented individuals. I think some of the pleasure is to be able to play chamber music with people who are spectacular. Because they play my violins they can't be rude about my playing. Last night I was talking to Nicky Benedetti and saying, let's get some people from the LSO and do a quintet. That to me is the privilege. People who are spectacular at what they do tolerating the poor amateur, and not being too rude about my playing.

Below: A short video trailer for Nicola Benedetti playing Mendessohn's violin concerto

Moulds and his circle can't pick up what the Arts Council does, because they move in a different world, following their personal passions with money and expertise

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Just recently, Chad Hoopes performed at the Bugonaygeshig School, K thru 12 tribal school of Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe located in Bena, Minnesota. Hoopes performed with Jonnathan Moulds' Antonio Stradivari Cooper; Hakkert;ex Ceci violin. My 13yr old son came home and told me a guy came with a fiddle and played some really different kind of music. He said it was really good and he liked it. He also said it was amazing that so many sounds could come out of four strings. i think it is so important that Mr, Moulds know that his dream of bringing the arts out to the rest of the world has come true. Most of the kids had never even heard classical music and were captivated. I am so grateful that my kids had the opportunity for that experience. I looked up who is Jonnathan Moulds and this article came up. Way cool, Mr Moulds'! As they say in Ojibwe country, Chi Miigwich! (a BIG Thank You!) Sincerely, P. Bedeau, Onigum, MN, US

Hi Polly, Way cool and "Chi Miigwich" to you and your son too. I've sent your comment on to Jonathan Moulds and I'm sure he will be really over the moon about that. It's wonderful that we can all use the internet for this, to share things between such faraway places. And in the middle was music. Very best wishes to you and your kids, Ismene

I'm from Argentina and as I have in my possession q this violin, said to be a q Cremonensis Faciebat Antonio Stradivarius Anno 1713, it arrived in Europe 130 years ago or more by my family, and was kept in a shed for many years until q I found the store and so far no one saw him, I wanted to ask if you could help me and tell me if it is a genuine Stradivarius, from already thank you very much for your time, greetings from Argentina

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