Arts funding ‘disregards’ underserved

Holly Sidford
Holly Sidford

Arts grantmaking in the U.S. ignores big chunks of culture and society, a new report says.

Big organizations get over half the funding awarded each year to arts and cultural groups but represent less than 2 percent of them, while only 10 percent of arts funding explicitly benefits underserved communities, says the report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

And less than 4 percent of arts funding focuses on advancing social-justice goals, says the report, Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy.

“These facts suggest that most arts philanthropy is not engaged in addressing inequities that trouble our communities, and is not meeting the needs of our most marginalized populations,” says the report, written by Holly Sidford, president of Helicon Collaborative, a consulting firm that advises cultural organizations and philanthropists.

Arts and cultural groups received roughly $2.3 billion a year, or 11 percent of all foundation giving, and over half those dollars support organizations that have annual budgets of more than $5 million, the report says.

Those organizations represent less than 2 percent of arts and cultural nonprofits and focus mainly on Western European arts forms and serve audiences that are mainly white and upper-income, the report says.

Yet only 10 percent of grant dollars awarded with the primary or secondary purpose of supporting the arts explicitly benefit lower-income populations, communities of color and other disadvantaged groups.

And a growing number of artists and cultural groups are working in artistic traditions from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Rim, as well as in new technology-based and hybrid forms, the report says.

And they are using the arts in “increasingly diverse ways to engage and build communities and address the root causes of persistent societal problems, including issues of economic, educational and environmental justice, as well as inequities in civil and human rights, the report says.

The distribution of arts funding “is demonstrably out of balance with our evolving cultural landscape and with the changing demographics of our communities,” it says. “Current arts grantmaking disregards large segments of cultural practice, and by doing so, it disregards large segments of our society.”
Still, the report sees signs it calls hopeful.

“A growing number of funders outside the arts – foundations with a primary focus on education, community development, health or social justice – are partnering with artists and arts organizations to reach their programmatic goals,” it says.

A recent study by Americans for the Arts found over 150 funders active in that area, the report says, while the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy identified over 140 arts funders that gave at least 20 percent of their funding to benefit marginalized communities.

“But much more can and needs to be done for arts and culture funders to stay current with the changing field and relevant to the needs of our communities,” the report says.

It includes a guide for ways that all types of foundations that give to the arts can “make equity a core principle in their grantmaking.”

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