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Sandy Nairne, 59, is director of the National Portrait Gallery. He is involved in the BT ArtBox scheme (btartboxes.com/ebay), for which sculptures based on the classic red Gilbert Scott phone box have been made by leading artists in order to raise money for ChildLine, a telephone counselling charity for children.
What makes you want to give?
I’ve always seen the drive to give as a mix of different things, knowing what is true – that one is often caught by something affecting that makes you feel moved to contribute. People do talk about duty or obligation but I think that’s secondary. In the case of ChildLine, I thought it was fantastic that BT happened to be forging this link-up with ChildLine’s 25th anniversary; their common association with the telephone meant it made such obvious sense.
What particularly attracted you to the BT ArtBox scheme?’
We happened to be working with BT on a project we’ve been running for three years called The Road to 2012. BT have been supporting us, commissioning photographs of people preparing for the games. Then this year BT said: “Oh, by the way, we happen to be doing the partnership with ChildLine, could you help us or be involved?” It just sounded a great thing to help a little bit on that.
How can we encourage people to give to the arts, particularly during a recession?
I think one has got to be realistic if you’re working in the arts or the cultural sector that there are much bigger issues in the world. However, what I’m always fond of saying is that these things are not completely separate; recently here in the NPG we’ve been highlighting some of our work with children’s hospitals in a scheme called the Superheroes project, which enables ill children to engage with art in a way they might not otherwise get the chance to do. So although I think one has to recognise the larger questions in charitable need, one can always, I think, find a place for the arts and culture within that.
What do you think the charitable sector can learn from business, or vice versa?
I think the charitable sector – and I include a charity like the NPG – can’t work in anything other than the most effective and businesslike way. The NPG now runs on a completely 50-50 basis; about half of our resources each year come from the public sector and half we get from ticketing, sponsorship, donations, trading and earnings. Everything else is done in an enterprising way.
What advice would you give to others who wanted to become art donors or to set up charitable events?
I’d give them the simplest advice of all, which is try out, see what happens, and get the pleasure of giving. I get as much pleasure from contributing to a street party where I live as I do making small-scale donations here and there to charities I get caught up in or interested in. So my advice to other people is try it out and get some pleasure – get more pleasure.