Culture Club

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Culture Club



Dr Maximilian Martin - Global Head of Philanthropy

Dr Maximilian Martin

Global Head of Philanthropy

Art and culture have been essential to human identity for millennia, and private philanthropy has been instrumental in their creation and transmission. It is equally true, however, that the framework conditions have changed markedly since Gaius Maecenas (70 BC-8 AD) – Roman Emperor Augustus’ equivalent of a minister of culture – financially supported the poets of his time including Horace or Virgil.

In the 21st century, information technology and globalisation, paired with philanthropists’ hunger for impact, are fundamentally reshaping how they can to support art and culture. Technological advancements now offer unprecedented opportunities to support the preservation of the arts and cultural heritage. Palmyra, the UNESCO World Heritage site dating back more than two millennia, and partially destroyed by ISIS in the Syrian civil war, is a case in point.

To preserve the city for posterity, the New Palmyra Project created three-dimensional models. The idea was straightforward: use cheap 3D cameras to photograph and then digitise world heritage. That has created online visualisations, walkthroughs, and 3D printing of miniature replicas. French start-up Iconem takes this a step further, using drones and photogrammetric reconstruction algorithms to create highly sophisticated, accurate models of world heritage sites in 21 countries.

For philanthropists, using technology to counter the destruction of cultural heritage holds a wider significance. Even if they make a grant, today’s donors increasingly want to see a “return on investment.” What difference did their support make? Moreover, younger philanthropists often want the arts to cross over into the social. They ask, how can art and artists help address social issues or create awareness?

There is an invitation then to rethink the scope of philanthropic engagement in art and culture along three lines of action: strengthening preservation, widening transmission, and securing access.


Preservation

Recent advances in digital and material sciences have made the preservation of art and culture from the ravages of time (and from iconoclasts) much easier.

At Lombard Odier, we recently witnessed what modern technology can achieve with the complete restoration of the Latona Fountain and Parterre at the Château de Versailles near Paris. Financed by a client who left a legacy to Fondation Philanthropia, the complete renovation took more than three years as part of a broad EUR 7.1 mn project which involved the training of a new generation of sculptors, marble workers, gilders, fountain engineers, stonemasons, metal restorers and gardeners.

Some 350 years after the structure was first built by Louis XIV, this team of new artisans came together to deliver urgent renovations to recreate the original appearance of the fountain, while embodying the social impact formula of the project. At the same time, 3D technology was deployed to build a database of the architectural works so they could be rebuilt or copied at any time.

In a nutshell, by using or backing modern technology, philanthropists can today help enable ambitious restoration projects, and in the process they can create and codify the knowledge and expertise acquired, to make the next restoration cycle far more manageable.


Transmission

Where preservation of a cultural artefact has been secured, the next question is, how can we transmit the lessons learned and data acquired well into the future?

Technology and the spirit of “open source” may offer the solution. Take the Venice Time Machine, a large international project launched in 2012 by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) with the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and co-financed by Fondation Lombard Odier. Establishing an open digital archive that will eventually cover over 1,000 years of the city’s cultural heritage, the project aims to build a collaborative multi-dimensional model of Venice.

It scans and processes archival items to trace how cultural and artistic artefacts, commercial goods, money, news and people have flowed over the centuries. This provides a completely new vantage point on the history of one of the world’s great trading cities, and its role in globalisation. This is a great project, in both size and ambition – and one that would not have taken off without an up-front philanthropic contribution.


Access

Through millennia, arts and culture have relied on philanthropy to finance artistic production. In turn, philanthropists have used art and culture to make a statement about the kinds of ideas they want to propagate and the legacy they want to leave behind.

In today’s age of abundance – some might say, overload – of information, ideas, and artefacts, philanthropists are wondering how they can “anchor” with more and more people the artistic and cultural ideas at the heart of human identity.

Museums around the world are exploring how digital tools and technology can create new experiences for visitors, regardless of cultural background.

The reader will probably be familiar with, or a supporter of a museum that has embarked on such a journey. At a recent session at the European Foundation Centre’s annual meeting, we discussed the case of the Benaki Museum, the second most visited cultural place in Greece after the Acropolis, and a critical repository of culture in the darkest hours of the country’s recent crisis.

As museums adopt an open-source mindset to compound their social impact and build powerful cultural brands, the key questions are: how can one share the artistic content widely and appropriately? On which platforms? Moreover, how can a user-centric experience be created, for example via digital apps such as the Flemish “heritage app” that provides extra information during visits to local museums and heritage organisations in Belgium through augmented reality and iBeacons.

Providing philanthropic support to enable museums to resource such efforts properly is very valuable. At a time when human civilisation risks heading for an age of conflict, it is important to connect citizens with what is most precious about our cultures and ground them in universal ideals of beauty. Whether through preservation, transmission, or access, today’s philanthropists have a unique opportunity to make catalytic contributions that will make a profound difference as the 21st century unfolds.

Important information

This document is issued by Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd or an entity of the Group (hereinafter “Lombard Odier”). It is not intended for distribution, publication, or use in any jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, or use would be unlawful, nor is it aimed at any person or entity to whom it would be unlawful to address such a document. This document was not prepared by the Financial Research Department of Lombard Odier.

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