'Your Net Worth'
I first heard the acronym HNWI (“high-net-worth individual”) discussed in two trustee meetings of different arts organisations. The context of both discussions centered around finding (targeting) new revenue streams for these financially hard pressed charities. I am curious about the way that the organisations that I have been involved with have needed to find wealthy philanthropists who might help to plug the widening funding gaps that have been emerging since the recent economic downturn.
It must be a wonderful thing to possess a resource that can make all the difference to the survival of an organisation. However, this reliance on the patronage of private individuals is an essentially unstable form of funding. Before the economic downturn there was a relatively stable period of state support for the arts. However in the last years, this is probably no longer the case unless your organisation is one of the RFO's (“Regularly Funded Organisations”). Even for this elite group the financial climate remains challenging.
How will the change in available funding streams affect the creative process in the long term?
As I write it has just been announced in the press that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares to the cause of human advancement. That represents roughly $45 billion at Facebook's current valuation, making it one of the largest pledges in history. The money will go to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company that Facebook says will:
"pursue its mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates, in each case with the goal of generating positive impact in areas of great need".
This is not an unfamiliar trend and history provides many examples of the philanthropy of wealthy individuals and organisations. Perhaps these donations are given freely and without expectations of return, but even if they are, what effect will this have on the independence of the organisations or individuals that benefit? Or, how it will impact on the kind of issues that they tackle? If a wealthy giver has links to China, will they be happy to see their money go to an artist critical of the human rights record there?
One problem with this situation is that it fails to address the issue of the widening gap between the super rich and the majority. A consequence of money coming primarily from private donors may be that those in the 'arts' become embroiled in the establishment of this trend towards social inequality and are no longer in a position to challenge it.
The history of art is full of examples of the uneasy relationship between artists and their wealthy patrons and the dependency that is created. In a wonderful letter to his would be patron, Samuel Johnson not only ridicules the offer of support but does so with humour and aplomb.
'Is not a patron my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it: till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which providence has enabled me to do for myself'.
The numerous ways that artists have employed to subvert these relationships are well documented. Is there a return to a situation more reminiscent of the 18th century?
The following is an entry in Wikipedia:
'A high-net-worth individual (HNWI) is a person with a high net worth. In the western, and primarily American, private banking business, these individuals typically are defined as having investable finance (financial assets, excluding primary residence) in excess of US$1 million in constant 2006 dollars.
However, there are distinct classifications of HNWI and the exact dividing lines depend on how a bank wishes to segment its market. For example, an investor with less than US$1 million but more than US$100,000 is considered to be “affluent”, or perhaps even "Sub-HNWI". "Very-HNWI" (VHNWI) can refer to someone with a net worth of at least US$5 million'.
The article goes on to name another super class known as ultra-high-net-worth individuals, not to be confused with 'billionaires' who have the highest amount of investable income. Is this already long list of categories comprehensive enough though?
As the population of the world is now in excess of 7 billion (7,000,000,000) and there are approximately 13 million (13,000,000) HNWI's then most individuals must fall into any category 'below' this – that is approximately 99.8% of the world's population. The only other category for this vast group of people is the “Sub HNWI / Affluent” one. Clearly this group is substantial in size, but not nearly as large as those still not accounted for in this wealth categorisation process. Those individuals who are not affluent could be a categorised as Low Net Worth Individuals or LNWI's – or perhaps there should be several categories (as the difference between investors with less than US$100,000 and US$0 is considerable). Very low or even Ultra low perhaps?
A new wikipedia entry might read as follows:
'A low-net-worth individual (LNWI), a person with a low net worth, these individuals typically might be defined as having very limited (less than US$100,000) or no investable finance'.
I am curious about these ideas and they have been the catalyst for my contribution to EDITIONS//15- at Project 78 Gallery. I have intended the image to suggest pattern and shape as much as it does text. The letters and words however are inescapable - the tiered list is as follows: Billionaire, UltraHNWI, VeryHNWI, HNWI, affluent and LNWI. I have mimicked a process employed in previous text based works in the three colour screen printing process to produce the limited edition screen print that I have called: 'Your Net Worth'.
Editions//15 will be open until the 9th January