Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Book festivals previously sponsored by Baillie Gifford seek donations

Book festivals previously sponsored by Baillie Gifford seek donations

Nine festivals that were previously sponsored by investment company Baillie Gifford are now seeking donations.

“Amidst intense discussion around arts funding and challenges to our continued flourishing”, reads a joint statement, the festivals have “joined forces” to “call for increased support”.

Monday’s statement comes weeks after Baillie Gifford partnerships with the nine festivals ended – including Hay festival, Edinburgh international book festival and Cheltenham literature festival – after calls by campaign group Fossil Free Books (FFB) for the company to divest from fossil fuels and companies linked to Israel.

“As writers and other book workers, we care deeply for literary festivals and support their call for sustainable funding,” said FFB in response to the statement.

It also emerged on Monday that publishing house Bloomsbury has donated £100,000 to be split between the nine festivals. “A member of FFB directly reached out to Bloomsbury suggesting they donate to book festivals in light of Baillie Gifford’s withdrawal, and was responsible for securing their support,” the group told the Guardian. “We are grateful for new backing in the face of arts austerity as we work towards a long-term model, and hope to celebrate more wins for and with our festivals soon.”

The joint statement highlighted benefits of book festivals, including improving public discourse and supporting writers. Hay festival CEO Julie Finch made the case to the Guardian for literary festivals’ importance “in terms of health and wellbeing, reading and community development, and also tourism and the economy”.

The Publishers Association said that it endorsed the statement, adding that the “significant funding pressures” festivals are facing “are of profound concern”. Festivals’ futures “can only be achieved through a mixed model of earned revenue, public funding, corporate sponsorship and private philanthropy”.

In May, Hay festival dropped Baillie Gifford as a sponsor after several speakers boycotted the festival. Days later, Edinburgh international book festival and the company “collectively agreed” to end the sponsorship. Soon, it emerged that sponsorships of Borders, Wimbledon BookFest, Cheltenham, Cambridge, Stratford, Wigtown and Henley festivals had also been cancelled. The company’s sponsorship of the Baillie Gifford prize remains in place.

FFB encouraged “people and publishers” to read the festivals’ statement and to “give where they can”. It also encouraged festivals to “work with authors and outside groups such as Culture Unstained to develop transparent, ethical fundraising policies”.

Finch said that Hay is exploring “the whole gamut” of fundraising sources, including from “the public, high net worth individuals, trusts and foundations, corporate [and] legacies”.

She added that the charity has to adhere to Charity Commission guidance and regulations.

“Ultimately, we have to say yes to funding until there’s a reason to say no,” said Finch. “And, obviously, we go through a process. So all funding opportunities are explored, regardless of their sources, they are vetted in a really robust process, and then a decision is made as to where and how that funding might manifest itself.”

Asked why Hay didn’t put more pressure on Baillie Gifford to divest from fossil fuel and Israel-linked companies, Finch said that that is not the festival’s “role”. It’s “not our business to do that. Hopefully, this whole episode has highlighted the fact that festivals are simply not campaigning organisations.”

skip past newsletter promotion

In May, FFB released a statement – since signed by more than 800 authors – which reiterated demands for Baillie Gifford to cease investments in fossil fuel industries and called on the company to divest “from companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide”.

In a June interview with the Guardian after the termination of the sponsorships, film-maker, writer and FFB campaigner Omar Robert Hamilton said that he “wouldn’t call it a victory”. Campaigners said that they had hoped festivals would have leveraged their relationships with the company to “talk to them about divesting”.

When approached for comment, Baillie Gifford pointed to statements made in May after the Edinburgh international book festival and the company parted ways. “We hold the activists squarely responsible for the inhibiting effect their action will have on funding for the arts in this country,” said Nick Thomas, a partner at Baillie Gifford. “The assertion that we have significant amounts of money in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is offensively misleading. Baillie Gifford is a large investor in several multinational technology companies, including Amazon, Nvidia and Meta. Demanding divestment from these global companies, used by millions of people around the world, is unreasonable and serves no purpose. Much as it would be unreasonable to demand authors boycott Instagram or stop selling books on Amazon.”

Thomas said that Baillie Gifford is not a “significant” fossil fuel investor. “Only 2% of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels. We invest far more in companies helping drive the transition to clean energy.”

Author and FFB campaigner Tom Jeffreys wrote in the Guardian last week in support of the group’s actions, arguing that “such shifts may not feel like victories, but in several important ways they are”. He said that FFB and other collectives are in conversation with festivals to develop more ethical funding policies, and that “alternative funding possibilities” are emerging.

Adam Rutherford, a scientist who hosted several events at this year’s Hay festival, said that he “fully” endorsed the festivals’ statement. “Book festivals are a vital organ in national life, one that fuels ideas and discourse and creativity and education, and a love of books – the record of the best of humanity.”

Source: theguardian.com