U.S. philanthropic funding for the arts continues to flow disproportionately to the largest cultural institutions, which, by themselves, are not reflective of the country's cultural or demographic diversity, a report from Helicon Collaborative finds.
Funded by the Surdna Foundation, the study, Not Just Money: Equity Issues in Cultural Philanthropy (37 pages, PDF), found that while arts foundations and nonprofit leaders increasingly are aware of and working to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the distribution of arts funding is becoming more concentrated among the largest institutions. In 2016, for instance, the 2 percent of U.S. arts groups with budgets of at least $5 million received 58 percent of total gifts, grants, and donations, an increase of 5 percentage points over the past decade. The report also found that the 8 percent of arts organizations with budgets between $1 million and $5 million received 21 percent of total funding, while the 90 percent with budgets under $1 million — about a quarter of which focus on African, Asian, Latin American, Native American, and Middle Eastern art forms and cultural traditions — shared the remaining 21 percent, a decline of 4 percentage points.
Building on a 2011 study commissioned by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy (44 pages, PDF), the new report found that rural communities, low-income communities, and people of color — representing, respectively, 20 percent, 50 percent, and 37 percent of the U.S. population — received only 2 percent, 2 percent, and 4 percent of philanthropic arts funding. In addition, a comparison of ten cities showed that local arts funding is highly concentrated in the hands of relatively few large institutions, while even in cities with "majority minority" populations, cultural organizations serving these communities do not receive significant funding. The exception is San Francisco, where two decades of intentional and collaborative efforts to boost midsize and smaller cultural organizations has led to a more equitable distribution pattern.
According to the latest report, a significant lack of diversity among donors as well as the leadership of foundations and large cultural institutions contributes to the problem. As well, cultural groups primarily serving people of color or low-income populations tend to be located in communities that have been affected by long-term disinvestment and, as a result, have less opportunity to attract earned or contributed income, develop reserves and generate investment income, or win large grants.
To address these challenges and advance equity in cultural philanthropy, the report's authors recommend that foundations and arts and cultural organizations set explicit goals for change, educate wealthy donors about the cultural ecology and connect them to smaller groups, and commit to collaborative action.
"Money is important, but this isn't just about money," the report concludes. "The inequities reported here will continue to widen unless there is a meaningful adjustment in funders' thinking about the role of art and culture in our communities, and a values shift that stops privileging the few at the expense of the many."