Philanthropy Begins at Home.....
Philanthropy etymologically means "love of humanity" in the sense of caring for, nourishing, developing, and enhancing "what it is to be human".[i]
It is a fact that the majority of the members of the Saltire Society are in what has been quaintly described as the 'third age'. That constituency is characterised by certain ways of conducting its business. While on one hand the Saltire Society is increasingly active in the world of social media, the other hand holds a pen. Written correspondence is the preferred means of communication for many of our members. What letters lack in reach and immediacy they gain tenfold in the personal nature, thoughtfulness and permanency of the exchange. So when in our recent members update we made a call for support to purchase new chairs for our Edinburgh HQ it was inspiring and moving to receive, virtually by return, five handwritten letters offering a contribution.
It wasn't simply the medium that impressed; the message struck me as significant on the same day as we were invited, by email, to offer nominations for the Arts and Business (England) for the Prince of Wales Medal for Arts Philanthropy. This merits a small digression by way of context. My most recent previous employment was with the Arts Council England; a fine and committed group of people doing a tough job with skill and integrity. Their mettle has been tested of course by the pressure on public funds and this in turn has meant tough choices in what they support. The preferred policy panacea emanating from the Minister's office was to push the idea of philanthropy: that calling on the better nature of those encumbered by serious money through accident of birth, industry, skill, courage or luck would fill the fissure appearing in the public purse. This is perhaps a reasonable proposition for the signature arts bodies of London, but is far less likely to succeed in the northern part of that country, an argument that has been well rehearsed elsewhere. Suffice to say the giving of medals for good works can be seen as part of that world view.
Let me introduce you at this point to Miss Janet Bone. A member of the Saltire Society since 1994 Miss Bone passed away in 2010 leaving to the Society the astonishing sum of £475,000. This wasn't the result of a fundraising campaign, a legacy strategy, or any other of the fashionable methodologies seeking the financial Holy Grail. It was an individual’s act of faith, generosity and commitment to the well-being of Scottish culture. That money has given the Society the fuel to drive the changes suggested by Lord Cullen's Commission, and like the equally swift and generous response to our appeal for new chairs, it come with an air of humility about it. When I asked another member, who has recently made a commitment in her own will, to quote her name in despatches, 'pour encourager les autres', she declined. The generosity of our members is matched by their humility it seems.
Of course the public recognition of good works, acknowledging the humanity at the heart of the philanthropic act is entirely proper. The recent, richly deserved, recognition of Dr Carol Colburn Grigor’s quiet but substantial commitment to the Edinburgh International Festival is a fine case in point and an encouragement to others. And as the Saltire Society finalises its plans for a new Saltire Endowment Trust as a means of securing our independence of thought and action for generations to come, we will embrace and respect the wishes of all who support our cause, whether seeking anonymity or public acknowledgement. Both have their place. We may not have awarded Miss Janet Bone a medal. But the contribution that she and all her fellow travellers have made in the 76 years of the Saltire Society resonates in everything we try to do for Scotland and its culture.