Arts Foundation & Boosted backer, Chris Parkin. Image credit: Monique Ford / Stuff
Arts Foundation & Boosted backer, Chris Parkin. Image credit: Monique Ford / Stuff
13.02.20

In Conversation With Arts Philanthropist, Chris Parkin

In 2019, Chris Parkin gifted Boosted a game-changing $120,000 to build a better crowdfunding website for artists. What drives such generosity? How does one get involved with arts philanthropy? Arts Foundation Lead, Jo Blair, caught up with Chris over coffee to bridge the artist-donor divide.

How did you get into the arts?

I grew up in an arty household. My parents were middle class and had grown up in an arts-centric environment in England, and art was something they valued.

As a result, in my earliest days I was exposed to classical music, discussions about ballet – that sort of thing. My father used to play classical piano, there were paintings on the wall (they were likely prints), and we had books about art – books on impressionism.

We lived in Ōtaki, so going to the ballet as a child wasn’t the ‘done’ thing back then – it was a bit of a different upbringing!

Why become an arts philanthropist?

To me, arts offer hope and positivity. There are so many things that are unenjoyable in this world. Also, assisting the arts is satisfying on a personal level. I support people because I think they deserve it, and there’s a chance I will get an ego kick out of it too. There’s a real pleasure in giving.

I am lucky to lead a privileged life. Therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to basically do good. So that’s what I do. I also buy things because I find them pretty – I’m a magpie!

Why don’t you give anonymously?

Honestly, the number one reason I give is for ego gratification. I like people to see what I’m doing. Number two reason is to show other people that it’s not such a terrible thing to do. Sometimes you need people to actually stand up and say ‘I’m John Smith’, I’ve given XXX and I’m proud of it.’ And hopefully they’ll name something after me (chuckles).

Tell us about the Parkin gift for Boosted. Why did you want to back Boosted?

I had been on the fringes of the Arts Foundation for a long time and liked the sorts of things that the Arts Foundation did. I liked the idea of having the Icon Awards and that sort of thing. It’s like a special knighthood for an artist. The artist gets recognition as an individual, but it also stimulates other artists to keep on creating.

Boosted appealed as it truly facilitates artistic development. For people to be successful on Boosted, their project has to work. It’s one of the most wonderful things on the internet.

I was talking with Simon Bowden for some time about what I could contribute, and I had already supported a number of Boosted projects. It just seemed right.

How are you asked to give to projects?

Usually I get an email from someone I have had a connection with or something. I like to give the last donation that gets people over the line. I’m the saviour!

It’s probably because I wasn’t very good at sports! I’ve got this inferiority complex, and this way I can buy my way into being first (said with a Cheshire grin).

What advice would you give to someone who comes to you with a project?

I don’t get asked by individuals as much as you would imagine. But when I do – I suppose

individual is the key word. Everyone reacts to things differently. It’s totally unique – whether you warm to the person or not can totally depend on the tone of voice they use when they call you, their wording in an email, the compulsion of a particular project, or the project being in a field you’re interested in.

What you need in this business, is a degree in honesty. But really, I don’t care what people think things should be based on. What I do is up to me.

Does a ‘cold call’ need to be unique for you to reply?

There is no short answer, or particular advice I can give people.

But I would say, if you’re expecting personal contact – look good (as in well groomed, well presented). Or if you don’t look good, look interesting!

If you could tell Jacinda one thing about the arts, what would it be?

Resign. [Laughter ensues]. Just kidding.

Being the minister of Arts – well, it’s a bit like when John Key became Prime Minister, he had no interest in the arts. But every Prime Minister should have a portfolio that involves dreaming. For John, it was tourism – he thought he could make a difference to how NZ was perceived overseas.

Jacinda is in a pickle as she doesn’t want to be seen splashing out on anything that is not absolutely necessary. In terms of the arts – well, if it was my money, what would I do with it? The problem is, if you’re spreading resources really thinly across everything it makes absolutely no difference. That’s my approach with philanthropy – I try and make sure that anything I do is going to actually make a difference. Otherwise, I might as well not do anything.

What about for those who don’t feel the arts are for them?

People will find the arts if they’re interested. We shouldn’t push people into it.

If you’re too asleep to be enlightened then what is the point of encouraging it? In my mind, it’s a lot more productive to focus on actually strengthening our arts offering – then the people will come. It should be about making the arts better.

The fact that everything has to be around the lowest common denominator is pointless. Just fund the art!