Report from a conference held last fall lays out a strategy for turning around the decline in private giving, but it could be that the arts and culture have become less dependent upon philanthropy. And the first communication effort coming out of the conference may have backfired, if press reports are any indication.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy (Nicole Lewis) brought attention to a report just issued from a conference last fall on arts funding hosted by Robert Redford's Sundance Preserve (Sundance Institute EIN 87-0361394 Form 990). The story itself is behind subscription walls, but with some digging the report itself can be found on the web site of a Washington DC group called Americans for the Arts (EIN 52-1996467 Form 990). (And includes the worst picture of Robert Redford I have ever seen, where he looks much like a red-haired Don Imus.)
- After real gains averaging 4.8% per year from 1999 to 2004, private giving for the arts actually dropped 3.4% in real terms in 2005. [My note: Crowding out by giving for Hurricane Katrina was the most likely explanation. ]
- Arts donors are different from other donors: they are older, don't have kids at home, are likely to volunteer, and give to other charities.
- Workplace giving for the arts is increasing steadily.
- Governments in the US aren't major patrons to the arts, and the local government share (3%) is bigger than either the state or federal share (both 2%).
- Corporate giving is down as corporations become more focused on single causes, which tend to be in education and human services. Corporate sponsorship, which is considered a part of earned income rather than giving, is considerably larger than it was in the 1980s, also dropped from 2004-2005.
Now, when it comes to recommendations, the report betrays its roots as a facilitated brainstorming session. Long on broad objectives, short on practical recommendations:
- The goal of declaring arts literacy a key educational goal for the 21st century seems like the right kind of idea, but it will have an uphill battle competing with educational priorities, notably the emphasis on basic skills, that seem more pressing right now.
- I'm surprised that workplace giving pops up several times in the recommendations. Workplace giving is itself a shrinking pie, and I question the ethics of the arts sector competing vigorously against human services, which is still the core of workplace giving, with its own funding challanges and limited alternatives.
The focus on messaging campaigns as the main action steps established by the report is probably the best one can expect from this kind of process. But getting the message right can be tricky. One of the first outcomes is a report on the economic impact of the arts, a summary of which was just released (with the full report promised in June). What the Washington Post took away from this report is that the arts are doing just fine, having rebounded after 9/11. This isn't much of a case for providing additional support.
My guess is that the slowing of growth in cultural philanthropy, if it exists, is driven by capital campaigns rather than operating support. The Internet and upgrading of home entertainment systems will put pressure on cultural construction just in the same way that it is challenging multiplex theaters. But fewer arts centers doesn't mean less art.
Rather than a messaging campaign, I'd suggest encouragement of more arts-related competitions (think reality shows and YouTube). You know, "Extreme Sculpture," "American Tenor," that sort of thing.
Before we leave this subject, we should note that Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, reports compensation of $397,988 plus $87,070 in benefits, for a total package of $485,058. The organization has expenses of about $13 million a year and has a staff of 70, and also spends over $1 million a year on consultants and temporary labor. Current fundraising doesn't nearly cover the expenses (there is a deficit of nearly $9 million), but there is over $137,000,000 in pledges outstanding at the end of the year; in other words, past fundraising supports the operation.