Philanthropist John Studzinski explains his motivation behind setting up the Genesis Foundation, which provides training and mentoring opportunities for young people in the arts
I’ve always regarded the arts and music, and culture broadly defined, as an important part of what I call the wallpaper of civilisation. It’s something I was very conscious of as a child, something I always felt was important – the building blocks of humanity. I don’t see art as entertainment; I see it as an important statement of culture and a marker of how talent is nurtured and developed. It’s also a vital part of education, and it opens windows into culture and people from across the centuries. Even as a little boy I was always conscious of the fact that music in particular gives you greater insight into yourself and into your soul. That’s why it’s so important.
Additionally, music is a form of communication, a route into meditation, contemplation and prayer. It allows people to understand their own framework better by thinking about how they respond to music – whether they like it or dislike it or ignore it. I think this is an argument against composers talking too much about their own work: it’s more important that people respond to their music without any external influence. Sometimes the context of a composition is very different from how it’s re-interpreted over time. What’s interesting about really good music and art is that every century that looks at it has a slightly different perspective.
The Genesis Foundation has been operating since 2001. Together with managing director Harriet Capaldi, we choose projects that are focused on either nurturing young artists and giving them their first break, or nurturing new audiences. [The Foundation currently operates development programmes run by The National Theatre, the Young Vic and LAMDA, as well as The Sixteen.] We don’t just put on productions; we’re not interested in entertainment or simply putting our name to a ready-made show or exhibition as a sponsor.
We aim to build working relationships with people who are regarded as important leaders in their areas – such as Harry Christophers in the area of vocal music. Whether it’s with Harry, or with Jill Cook [curator of the British Museum] or Rufus Norris [artistic director of the National Theatre], we always do things with people as opposed to institutions. We try to create projects where there’s a mentoring element, where someone well-established in a career can mentor people who are just learning and evolving.
Music gives you greater insight into yourself and into your soul
The Genesis Sixteen project is a way of immersing young people further in the English choral tradition. [Participants in the scheme receive group tuition, individual mentoring and masterclasses run by some of the industry’s top vocal experts.] We’ve commissioned works by established and emerging composers – notably James MacMillan, and also Phillip Cooke, Marco Galvani and Joseph Phibbs. We’ve had many commissions with James now – long before he was the rock star he is today. You find that when you work with someone as a partner and collaborator, you learn to bounce projects off each other and establish a certain collegiality that allows you to achieve quite a lot.
It’s so important in life never to lose faith; one should always maintain and nurture it. The work that I do with the Genesis Foundation starts from the standpoint of my faith, which is embedded in Christianity. I see a lot of my work as being a defender of human dignity, because dignity is the essence of humanity. The second commandment is ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’. This means having respect for other people’s human condition.
I do think people who’ve been given a lot have to see it as a great responsibility: ‘To whom much is given, much is expected; and who has been given much, even more is expected.’ It’s a bit like asset management: when you’ve been given a resource, which is a gift from God, you can’t ignore it or abuse it or take it for granted; you have to respect it and nurture it, and you have to try to develop it.
But I think it’s important not to get the notion of philanthropy inextricably muddled with money. I always say there are three Ts in life: time, talent and treasure. Some people are given time, some people are given talent – and in many cases these are more important than treasure. If you’ve got all three, great. And if you’ve only got one, you should concentrate on giving that.
If you’re looking to develop sponsorship in the arts, my advice would be to decide where your passion is, and to try to find someone you can collaborate with – not someone who will take your money and use it for whatever they want. Be very clear about your goals and objectives. Identify a passion, a vision and a purpose, and only then decide what you want to support.