Reflections on the Culture Business Conference in NYC

A post crafted by Caitlin Green, ARAD ’19

Agenda, a consulting agency based in Paris, hosts conferences around the world to connect leaders in the arts and culture with each other to share the best ideas. They launched their Culture Business conference in after the 2008 financial crisis to reenergize fundraising professionals and find ways to confront new challenges. Agenda has hosted Culture Business around the world, including in Paris, Madrid, Sydney, and Melbourne. Last month, the conference came to New York. ARAD students and recent alumni attended the two-day conference at the Jewish Museum and Museum of the City of New York. Here are their reflections:


Nadia Kyne ‘18

As a Canadian, I was especially fascinated to hear the international perspective that the Culture Business Conference’s speakers brought to their discussions of organizational advancement. For example, one standout panel featured Silvia Melchior of the English National Ballet, Hanne Støvring of the American Friends of the National Gallery of Denmark, Daphne Butler Birdsey from the Metropolitan Museum, and Alison Wright from the National Gallery of Australia. It was fantastic to hear these four dynamic leaders speak candidly about the challenges and successes of their own fundraising work, and more broadly discuss the philanthropic trends that they are observing in a global context.


Carolina Cambronero-Varela ‘19

Several presenters mentioned the need for arts organizations to be emphatic about the artistic value that they can provide while also maximizing fundraising efforts from that perspective. For example, Ms. Sonia Higgins from Vievero Consulting explained that we need to build partnerships (not monetary exchanges) with shared agendas, combined resources, risks and rewards. We are not building commerce but rather social impact!


Emily Lin ‘18

I am inspired by Elizabeth Dobrska from TUGG to think of new ways to engage new audiences through corporate sponsorships. Like board members, corporations are not only able to provide financial support, but they can also connect organizations to communities that they otherwise lack resources to reach out to. It was suggested that organizations be more flexible in designing programs, in collaboration with corporations, that cater to the needs of specific communities.




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Evy Li ‘18

During the World Café session, the discussion for “how do you bounce back from a ’No’?” was very inspiring. There are several steps:

  1. Re-check the content and format of the applications
  2. Check the feedback
  3. Keep the communication open, always ask the next question
  4. Invest time in communicating with the personal assistant of CEO/manager – personal assistants are the most important gate keeper of the application (People at my tables, who are all very experienced, all strongly agree on this point)
  5. Every “No” is a step closer to “Yes”

During the panel for Art of International Giving, I was very inspired to hear the situations about patron trips. The Met approaches international patrons by personalizing conversations. Instead of saying, “you can make a bigger contribution”, they ask “which curator do you want to meet next?” Eventually patrons will make contributions. Trips don’t need to always be art-related. Instead of going to Basel, they arrange trips to local hospitals, creating meanings for patrons that are not to be bragged about, but are truly meaningful and memorable.




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Caitlin Green ‘19

One of the themes that became clear to me is that fundraising is about more than just focusing on the donor. Gary Stoppelman of Newfields explained how changing their mission to being people-focused and growing overall attendance inspired their core supporters. They were excited to see community members enjoying the organization they loved so much. Kendra Foley (an ARAD alumna!) of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Garrett Gin of Bank of America showed that corporate donors can become engaged with innovative programs that had a tangible impact.




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Agenda has posted many of the presentations here and made available notes from the conference.

Select photos courtesy of

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