Arts funding: It helps if you appeal to wealthy whites

A report issued today claims when it comes to funding for the arts, it’s a rich, white person’s world.

The report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy says foundation giving to the art doesn’t properly reflect the changing demographics in the nation, with the large portion of funding going to museums, operas, and symphonies when most of the nation isn’t a museum, opera, and symphony culture.

The Associated Press reported:

According to the study, the largest arts organizations with budgets exceeding $5 million represent only 2 percent of the nonprofit arts and culture sector. Yet those groups received 55 percent of foundation funding for the arts in 2009. Only 10 percent of funding went to underserved populations. However, the study’s author acknowledged the report may not account for every dollar granted to help reach diverse audiences at larger institutions.

The latest census data shows non-white populations have grown in every region of the country since 2000. More than a third of the country is comprised of people of color. In four states, white people are no longer the majority, the AP said.

“It is a problem because it means that — in the arts — philanthropy is using its tax-exempt status primarily to benefit wealthier, more privileged institutions and populations,” wrote the report’s author, Holly Sidford.

The report said just 2 percent of non-profit cultural organizations have budgets over $5 million, but they get 55 percent of contributions, gifts, and grants. The greater the amount of money given by a foundation, the less likely the foundation is to “prioritize marginalized communities.”

View the full report. (pdf)

  • John P II

    Clearly this is a subtle plug from the newsroom for upcoming membership week …

    I jest, but I do think founding The Current was a visionary way for MPR to reach out to under served communities (and expand its base) through more diverse programming. I like old dead white European guy music too but The Current is much more reflective of our culture and community today.


  • Jim Shapiro

    It is unfortunate – but perhaps should not be so surprising – that most funding goes to the older, “highbrow” arts.

    Old money tends to hang on to tradition, and new money tends to want to appear as classy as it’s older relative.

    Then there are the factors of “good” contacts and education.

    Do you know somebody who knows somebody on a board? Can you hire a good grant writer, or write one yourself?

    “Marginalized” tends to go hand in hand with “poor”, and the answer to those questions tends to be no.

    Which is why it’s so important that there are wealthy whites who are willing to reach out and take risks.

    But the research indicates that the outlier funder is not enough to achieve justice.

    Thus, there must be affirmative action rules for arts funding. Your foundation wants 501(c)(3) status? Then X % needs to go to “marginalized” recipients and/or for culturally diverse activities.