Arts & Community Business Breakfast

07 Dec 2017

Arts & Community Business Breakfast

50 business members braved the cold winter morning to meet at James Street South on 24th November to hear industry experts speak about how partnering with Arts organsiations has helped them to engage their local communities in highly creative, meaningful ways.

Damien O’Neill, Group Head of Marketing at Allianz Ireland, explained how Arts engagement has evolved over the last 20 years from financial institutions purchasing artwork for their head offices, to the new community engagement model. Allianz have a heavy focus on sports sponsorship; that said they took the decision to compliment this activity by venturing into the artistic and creative worlds. In partnership with Business to Arts (the ROI equivalent of Arts & Business NI), they have evolved these Arts partnerships into something that is truly beneficial and appreciated. Allianz engaged with Arts & Business NI 14 years ago; taking on the role of headline sponsor of their annual Allianz Arts & Business NI Awards, and sponsoring the Allianz Community Art Award, which supports a very worthy local community project nominated by Allianz staff. Allianz value the added dimension which Arts partnerships bring to their community engagement strategy, allowing them to engage with local communities, customers and staff in a colourful, fun way.

Our guests then heard from Jenni Barkley, Communications & Corporate Responsibility Manager at Belfast Harbour. Their Corporate Responsibility strategy focuses on four pillars: young people, creative culture, environment and community. Belfast Harbour also has an extensive art collection housed in the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Office. Over the last 5 years, Belfast Harbour’s business has evolved with property development a new stream of activity; recent projects include film studios, hotel, offices and car parks. They now need to engage with the community even more to ensure Belfast is an attractive destination for tourists and to attract the right calibre of people to work in the office developments, mostly filled by FDI tenants.

“Supporting artistic activities makes sense for us as we want people to see Belfast Harbour as a creative place to be and help to create a vibrant, fun city for people to invest money in and find the workforce they need” said Jenni Barkley, continuing todetail their work with Culture Night Belfast, the annual showcase of the Arts in Belfast, attracting in excess of 100,000 people which is a testament to the power of the Arts in our City. Belfast Harbour’s public plaza is in development and they worked with Culture Night Belfast this year to extend Culture Night to the area around the Harbour Office, animating the Belfast Harbour space.

Belfast Harbour has also partnered with the Book Trust to address children’s literacy, actively fulfilling one of the pillars of their CR strategy. To date they have funded 3,000 books for children and their current project focuses on teenage literacy. Their aim is to encourage young people to engage with reading long term, increasing young people’s education and ultimately improving their skill levels and employability prospects.

Jenni highlighted that Corporate Responsibility activity is very much a two way process and can enhance your corporate objectives, which can only be a positive outcome.

Our final speaker of the day was Sinéad Smith, Corporate Responsibility Manager at A&L Goodbody Dublin. Having their Dublin offices located in a disadvantaged area with prevalent issues of under achievement of education and poor literacy in the local community,  A&L Goodbody wanted to address this. Partnering with Suas to improve education for 8-14 year olds in the area adjacent to their offices, their staff conducted paired reading programmes in local schools. This has had a huge impact at grass-roots level; schools recorded 70% improvement in literacy, confidence and pupils benefited greatly from 1 on 1 attention.

Working with Business to Arts, A&L Goodbody introduced their ‘Writers in residence’ programme to augment literacy levels even further. They funded a professional writer, who is experienced in working with children, to work with the pupils to develop their creative writing capabilities. Projects to date have included an East Wall alphabet, lullaby and school anthem. The school feels that this is one of the best initiatives that they have ever engaged with to date. In addition, teachers are applying their learnings to different parts of the curriculum.

Sinéad candidly revealed A&L Goodbody took the leap of faith into the Arts world, supported by Business to Arts and is now really proud of the work that they have achieved via their Arts partnership. Their project won the Best Use of Creativity in the Community Award at the Allianz Business to Arts Awards 2017 which is a testament to their commitment to the arts.

Sinéad puts the success of their community engagement project down to four factors: A&L Goodbody took the risk; the partnership was a good match; the school/environment was a good match and the writer had the experience to engage the children so creatively.

We would like to thank all our speakers for their time in providing us with such inspirational case studies as to how their businesses engage very successfully with Arts organsiations for very real business benefits.

Picture Caption:- Allianz, A&L Goodbody (Dublin) & Belfast Harbour unite in their support of the Arts at recent Arts & Community Business Breakfast at James Street South, Belfast (L-R) Mary Nagele, Chief Executive, Arts & Business NI; Sinéad Smith, Corporate Responsibility Manager at A&L Goodbody Dublin; Damien O’Neill, Group Head of Marketing at Allianz Ireland and Jenni Barkley, Communications & Corporate Responsibility Manager at Belfast Harbour If you would like to get involved, please contact Arts & Business NI on 028 9073 5150 or

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Arts & Business is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.