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.