September 12, 2010; Source: The Guardian | Although the British government says it doesn’t expect private philanthropy to fill a 25 percent cut in the nation’s culture budget, it certainly has no problem with generous individuals who want to lend a hand. More to the point, Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, said on Sunday he’d like to see more wealthy Britons follow the lead of John Sainsbury, who last week made a £25m ($38.5 million) donation to the British Museum for a new wing. His gift is the second largest from a living donor to a British Museum.
Sir Paul Getty holds the record for giving twice that amount in 1985 to the National Gallery. The Guardian article doesn’t offer any information about what motivated Sainsbury, the former chairman of the supermarket chain that bears his name, to make such a large gift. But his act of charity comes amid a debate about how much the country should—or can—count on philanthropic support to help the government fulfill its vision for a “big society.” A key element of the plan, recently unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron, is to encourage more philanthropists to routinely donate to arts and cultural institutions, just like successful individuals do in the United States.
Culture Secretary Hunt said Lord Sainsbury’s gift “thrilled” him. He added that the country has to “get away from the British bashfulness about generosity and philanthropy.” Unfortunately, for Hunt, some major givers are anything but bashful in taking issue with calls from the government for them to give more. Some major givers already have warned they don’t intend for their money to replace public spending. Instead, they want the government to give first, and they’ll follow.—Bruce Trachtenberg