FUSING ART, CULTURE
AND SOCIAL CHANGE

The distribution of foundation funds for the arts is demonstrably out of balance with our evolving cultural landscape and with the changing demographics of our communities. Current arts grantmaking disregards large segments of cultural practice, and by doing so, it disregards large segments of our society.

INTRODUCTION

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) promotes philanthropy that serves the public good, aids people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity, and upholds the highest standards of integrity and openness. NCRP commissioned us to assess how well arts and culture grantmaking was meeting that goal.

Every year, approximately 11 percent of foundation giving – more than $2.3 billion in 2009 – is awarded to nonprofit arts and culture. At present, the vast majority of that funding supports cultural organizations whose work is based in the elite segment of the Western European cultural tradition – commonly called the canon – and whose audiences are predominantly white and upper income. A much smaller percentage of cultural philanthropy supports the arts and traditions of non-European cultures and the non-elite expressions of all cultures that comprise an increasing part of American society. An even smaller fraction supports arts activity that explicitly challenges social norms and propels movements for greater justice and equality.

This pronounced imbalance in the distribution of arts funding is a problem. It is a problem because it restricts the expressive life of millions of people, thus constraining our creativity as a nation. It is a problem because it means that arts philanthropy is using its tax-exempt status primarily to benefit wealthier, more privileged institutions and populations. It is a problem because philanthropy is out of step with the fact that our artistic and cultural landscape includes an increasingly diverse range of practices, many of which are based in the history and experience of lower-income and nonwhite peoples. And it is a problem because art and cultural expression are essential tools to help us create fairer, more just and more civic-minded communities, and these tools are currently under-funded.

In this report, we make the case that more foundation funding in the arts should directly benefit lower-income communities, people of color and disadvantaged populations, broadly defined, and that more resources should be allocated to expand the role of arts and culture in addressing the inequalities that challenge our communities. There are compelling humanistic, demographic, aesthetic and economic reasons to move in this direction. By doing so, philanthropy can shape a more inclusive and dynamic cultural sector, as well as a more equitable, fair and democratic world.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) promotes philanthropy that serves the public good, aids people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity, and upholds the highest standards of integrity and openness. NCRP commissioned us to assess how well arts and culture grantmaking was meeting that goal.

Every year, approximately 11 percent of foundation giving – more than $2.3 billion in 2009 – is awarded to nonprofit arts and culture. At present, the vast majority of that funding supports cultural organizations whose work is based in the elite segment of the Western European cultural tradition – commonly called the canon – and whose audiences are predominantly white and upper income. A much smaller percentage of cultural philanthropy supports the arts and traditions of non-European cultures and the non-elite expressions of all cultures that comprise an increasing part of American society. An even smaller fraction supports arts activity that explicitly challenges social norms and propels movements for greater justice and equality.

This pronounced imbalance in the distribution of arts funding is a problem. It is a problem because it restricts the expressive life of millions of people, thus constraining our creativity as a nation. It is a problem because it means that arts philanthropy is using its tax-exempt status primarily to benefit wealthier, more privileged institutions and populations. It is a problem because philanthropy is out of step with the fact that our artistic and cultural landscape includes an increasingly diverse range of practices, many of which are based in the history and experience of lower-income and nonwhite peoples. And it is a problem because art and cultural expression are essential tools to help us create fairer, more just and more civic-minded communities, and these tools are currently under-funded.

In this report, we make the case that more foundation funding in the arts should directly benefit lower-income communities, people of color and disadvantaged populations, broadly defined, and that more resources should be allocated to expand the role of arts and culture in addressing the inequalities that challenge our communities. There are compelling humanistic, demographic, aesthetic and economic reasons to move in this direction. By doing so, philanthropy can shape a more inclusive and dynamic cultural sector, as well as a more equitable, fair and democratic world.

The Work

• The audiences for large institutions that feature Western European traditions are  shrinking, aging, getting richer and less diverse
• Meanwhile more and more people are participating in arts on a smaller scale, or making it themselves

• Of the more than 39,000 nonprofit arts and culture groups 84% have budgets under $500,000 and less than 2% have budgets over $5 million. Most are small.

• And yet 55% of the contributions to the arts annually go to the 2% of organizations with budgets over $5 million

Where the money is going does not align with where people are participating--philanthropy is out of sync

Art-making reflects a society’s current demographic features as well
as its intellectual, spiritual, emotional and material history. Effective philanthropy must take into account our country’s changing demographics and support artistic practice that represents the experience of all.

Artistic practice is changing and evolving, new forms are emerging, and many artists are tradition bearers for their communities or use art to address social, economic and political inequities. A more equitable philanthropic system would recognize and support the critical role that all types of artists, from all cultures, play in the cultural ecosystem.

Current economic trends are shifting the funding landscape for all cultural groups, but they are most ominous for the artists and organizations based in and serving lower-income communities and other marginalized populations. Private funders cannot replace the role of the public sector, but decreases in public sector funding for certain types of art makes it important for private funders to reconsider the balance of their grantmaking in the arts.

• The audiences for large institutions that feature Western European traditions are  shrinking, aging, getting richer and less diverse
• Meanwhile more and more people are participating in arts on a smaller scale, or making it themselves

• Of the more than 39,000 nonprofit arts and culture groups 84% have budgets under $500,000 and less than 2% have budgets over $5 million. Most are small.

• And yet 55% of the contributions to the arts annually go to the 2% of organizations with budgets over $5 million

Where the money is going does not align with where people are participating--philanthropy is out of sync

Art-making reflects a society’s current demographic features as well
as its intellectual, spiritual, emotional and material history. Effective philanthropy must take into account our country’s changing demographics and support artistic practice that represents the experience of all.

Artistic practice is changing and evolving, new forms are emerging, and many artists are tradition bearers for their communities or use art to address social, economic and political inequities. A more equitable philanthropic system would recognize and support the critical role that all types of artists, from all cultures, play in the cultural ecosystem.

Conclusion

The face of art and culture in the United States is changing. Our contention is that cultural philanthropy should change with it. There are ways that all funders of the arts – regardless of their primary focus – can move toward more inclusive and responsive grantmaking. Teasing apart the various types of arts funding can help clarify the aims of each kind of philanthropic investment and reveal the possibilities in every area for grantmaking that will benefit underserved communities and promote greater equity, opportunity and justice.

  • Sustaining the canons – funders primarily concerned with preserving the Western European canon can work harder to ensure that their grant dollars directly benefit underserved communities; they also can recognize and support work in canons outside of the European tradition.
  • Nurturing the new – funders focused on new work can expand their understanding of and support for the expanding universe of artists and art forms being practiced in the U.S., recognize art and social change as a form of art-making and expand funding for social change or social justice arts.
  • Arts education – funders concerned with education and youth development can expand arts education for children with the least access to it; strengthen and grow both in-school and out-of-school programs; and redouble efforts to affect policies that will integrate the arts into basic school curricula.
  • Art-based community development – funders concerned with community development can expand support for endeavors and organizations that braid artistic and community goals, integrate artists and the arts into community planning and collaborate with funders in other fields to integrate strategies and advance mutual goals.
  • Art-based economic development – funders concerned with economic development can ensure that artists and arts organizations are integrated into these programs in ways that benefit lowerincome and other marginalized populations, support community-driven planning processes that engage underserved communities, and make certain that lowerincome people are not displaced by economic development projects.