Return for Arts Group

This peer learning community brought together public and private investors from Europe and the United States who are committed to contributing to a resilient and sustainable cultural ecology by advancing the field of impact investing for the artistic and cultural sectors. Representing fiscal, legal and cultural differences within and across countries, members of the group explored diverse approaches, mechanisms and models as well as the challenges and opportunities inherent in supporting culture through venture philanthropy and private investment.

Issues addressed included:

  • Measuring social and artistic impact

  • Investor profiles

  • New giving and investment trends in the sector

  • Innovative funding tools such as e.g. social impact bonds

  • Public incentive measures for encouraging private financing

Access our Compendium on Arts Funding (archives from 2012-2018) here

Recommendations on Arts Impact Investment (meeting in Zürich, Switzerland)

The Arts Investment Forum held a high-level roundtable discussion on the challenges and opportunities of impact investing for the arts sector at the premises of the Swiss Arts Council pro helvetia in Zürich, Switzerland. Participants, including representatives of national arts councils, banks and private foundations, decided on the following working definition of arts impact investment: “Arts impact investments are investments made into arts and cultural enterprises with the intention of generating measurable cultural and wider social impact alongside a financial return.”

Among the general sector-specific challenges identified were:

  • Lack of know-how = need for capacity-building to increase business acumen and investment readiness of micro-cultural enterprises as well as on the side of investors and financial intermediaries (sector-specific key indicators)

  • Suspicion of the sector = reluctance to invest due to perceived high risk (“fluffy”) and lack of collateral

  • Artists’ sense of entitlement (grants) and right to ‘fail and experiment’

  • Legal and fiscal environments in some countries, e.g. difficulty in investing in non-profits

  • Measurement = for both cultural and social impact, starting with understanding and “valuing” – e.g. what is the relationship between artistic outputs and non-artistic outputs and what role does artistic quality play in defining key indicators of blended value investments

  • Lack of investment, in particular also philanthropic funding, to help early-stage (idea-stage) enterprises

Suggestions to help advance the field of arts impact investing included:

  • Information sharing: tool box, case studies, success stories, ideas (e.g. measurement instruments)

  • Learning network: e.g. create a closed-door learning space – sharing failures and evidence, experiences and hear about new approaches

  • Sensibilization and advocacy: for instance through reaching out to existing networks to distribute a Manifesto on arts impact investment, for which target audience would be both investors (with particular focus on private investors) and investees

  • Hold follow-up meetings to also look at wider scope of issues relevant to strengthening the field of private investment in the arts

European Manifesto on Arts Impact Investment (draft), (meeting in London, UK)

Draft by Tim Joss

Cultural impact investments are made to generate measurable cultural and wider societal impact alongside a financial return.

We send out this call across Europe to harness current energies and build by 2020 a strong movement for cultural impact investment.

We address this to those working in the cultural sector, to investors (public and philanthropic, organisations and individuals), the research community and pan-European institutions.

The context

We highlight these current energies:

1. Realising the full potential of cultural activities’ contributions to society, both in dedicated cultural spaces and in everyday life. Financial and other support in Europe has created a stock of ‘artistic capital’: creative artists, venues, artform development, presentation skills (live, digital and broadcast) and expertise in learning, participation and public engagement. More effective and far-reaching deployment of this artistic capital will be advantageous both to society and the cultural sector.

2. Innovating in response to changes in societies – the political, cultural, technological, social and economic. From the point of view of cultural development, we highlight:

Technological advances, their cultural implications and their opportunities for those working in culture.

Advances in citizen power and cultural diplomacy.

Increased demand for accountability of government expenditure and the associated demand for rigorous impact measurement.

The advent of new forms of philanthropy such as crowd funding, social investment and venture philanthropy.

3. Maintaining the grant as a key financial instrument to achieve cultural and wider societal improvements where commercial market mechanisms fail. Such improvements in culture include large infrastructure projects, training and continuing professional development programmes, research projects, and early stage explorations/ experimentations.

4. A worldwide interest in the development of other financial instruments alongside the grant, capable of supporting innovation in the cultural sector and hence achieving cultural and wider societal improvements.

5. A drive to improve performance measurement in the cultural sector, both as a tool for continuous improvement in cultural organisations and as a means to improve accountability and transparency to audiences, participants, citizens and funders.

6. A determination within cultural organisations and their funders for these organisations to achieve greater sustainability and resilience.

A vision for cultural impact investment

Our seven-point vision is for a step-change in:

A. Availability of support to bring cultural organisations to ‘investment readiness’.

B. Availability of support to build the capacity of financial institutions to make cultural impact investments either direct or via expert financial intermediaries.

C. The number and quality of expert financial intermediaries.

D. Creation and sustainability of social investment funds which understand and are sensitive to the needs of cultural organisations and sectors.

E. Engagement of a wider range of investors including mainstream financial institutions, foundations, high net worth individuals and public institutions.

F. The definition of cultural value and cultural impact.

G. The measurement of cultural quality, and the cultural impact and the wider societal impact achieved by cultural organisations.

Calls to action

To realise this vision, we call on:


To share understanding and increase engagement with cultural impact investment through the creation peer-support networks. These can be within and across artforms, countries, and types of activity such as venues and festivals.


To build expertise in using cultural impact investment to achieve cultural impact and financial returns.

To build expertise in using cultural impact investment in combination with grants.

To develop social investment dealflows.

To help develop secondary markets to avoid cultural impact investments being tied up for long periods.


To create better understanding of how cultural activities lead to cultural and wider societal benefits.

To provide robust definitions of cultural value and cultural impact.

To develop methodologies for measuring cultural value and cultural impact.


To encourage and facilitate the creation of cultural impact funds and linked investment readiness programmes.

To create a supportive policy context for investors, dealflow and secondary markets.


To create a conducive policy climate for cultural impact investment across Europe.

To contribute grant funding to achieve investment readiness amongst potential investors and investees.