Possible To Cultivate New Funders Motivated By New Mandates?

You may have read about the report the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy released at the Grantmakers in the Arts conference noting the disparity in foundation support for arts organizations.

According to the report,

“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 arts funding was explicitly meant to benefit underserved populations.”

Most of this money is going to large organizations patronized by a shrinking wealthy white audience during a time when people are orienting toward community based arts groups.

As I read this, I recalled Scott Walters’ discussion of the difficulty his small arts organization had meeting the deadlines for the Our Town grant process and the questions he raised about the appropriateness of the criteria being employed. I suspect there is something of a feedback loop inherent to foundation grant programs in that they are structured to the needs of the organizations they serve and those they serve tend to be organizations with the resources to meet the criteria of the grant programs.

Foundations may have to expand the number and types of organizations they serve, as the report suggests. But I strongly suspect they will have to also institute changes in their process to better accommodate those with fewer resources than those with whom they currently deal. Otherwise, they probably won’t have very strong participation from a larger, more diverse group.

Of course, most foundations, whether they have an arts focus or not, were set up to serve the interests of their founders. It appears that this has been rather successful. The greatest success in securing support for under served populations may end up being best realized by cultivating/encouraging individuals and groups from those communities to develop their own funding structures whether it is foundations or cultural hui.

The article mentions that current funding practices originated in an 19th century need to prove America was on par with Europe culturally. That need has passed and a new set of practices based on different motivations are required. Existing foundations may end up doing a lot of good after shifting their priorities, but in attempting to overlay new priorities on their founding purpose they may never be as effective as organizations that structure their approach around a mandate to support the arts and culture of under serve communities from day one.

Cultivating a sustained culture of support in areas where it is not currently practiced won’t happen overnight, but aided by technology it may not require 100 years to take root either.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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