Philanthropy and the Arts: Why Our Support Matters

Over at Minnesota Council on Foundation’s Philanthropy Potluck blog, the team has been doing an amazing job keeping with the latest in the budgetary debates, both on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures.

Last week, Chuck Peterson, MCF’s vice president for member relations, had a stirring post on the proposed cuts the National Endowment for the Arts. In the post, Chuck argues that a decrease in government funding for the arts may pose a greater risk to the ecology of arts funding that it first appears on the surface. In fact, proposed cuts to federal funding for the arts could result in an unintential decrease in  private support:

Arts and culture play a significant role in our society, and NEA dollars are often a critical piece of the funding equation in supporting state and local budgets. NEA grants require at least a one-to-one match of federal funds from the private sector – on average each NEA grant leverages at least seven dollars from other state, local and private sources. As a result, the deep cuts to NEA funding could have the unintended impact of dramatically reducing private support of cultural funding.

Governments around the country face tough decisions on what programs to cut or cut back, from life-saving human services to enriching, transformative artistic programming.  At this time, many people are asking, why support the arts? Over at the Council on Foundations Re:Philanthropy blog, Benna Wilde, managing director at Prince Charitable Trusts, provides these reasons:

  • Tens of millions of Americans participate in arts activities every year.
  • There are 109,000 nonprofit and 550,000 for-profit arts businesses and 2.2 million artists in the workforce.
  • The arts generate billions of dollars in consumer spending.
  • The arts are supported by a mosaic of sources. Earned income represents only half the total, while local, state, and federal government support is around 9 percent and shrinking. Private-sector support represents about one-third of the total.

It’s clear that given the financial realities we cannot ask the government to lift the arts alone. Wilde suggests that the solution is multi-channeled. She closes her post with a challenge: “For the arts to thrive, we need to collaborate to increase funding for the arts, from private and public sources alike.”

What role do you see for philanthropy in support of the arts? How can we best support our nation’s cultural heritage and foster emerging artists and art forms?


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