So here we are, and what do we do now?

Posted by Keely Saye, Mar 25, 2010 3 comments

Welcome to the Green Paper discussion on Private Sector Support for the Arts. As a way to celebrate the successes of the past 50 years, Americans for the Arts has partnered with over twenty arts service organizations and peer groups to collect Green Papers. And most importantly, we want your feedback!

I’m proud to serve as an Ambassador to the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties’ Green Paper on Private Sector Support for the Arts. This short vision of the future is meant to inspire a dialogue on the future of the arts, so I invite you to comment, make suggestions, and offer alternative visions in this virtual exchange of ideas through the ARTSblog Green Papers.

Andy Witt is the Executive Director of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties. I encourage you to read Andy’s Green Paper on Private Sector Support for the Arts in its entirety, but here is a quick summary with questions at the end:

In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, business and civic leaders recognized the need to support the growing diversity of arts groups, beyond the traditional symphony and museums. In communities across the country, United Arts Funds (UAFs), Arts & Business Councils (ABCs) and Business Committees for the Arts (BCAs) were established to offer centralized funding support. Businesses were happy to give one (supposedly) large chunk of cash to reduce the growing number of individual solicitations, and they would get the benefit of knowing they were supporting their community and the arts at the same time.

 Then, the rise in individual income among the baby boomer population made the arts popular. Alternative theatres grew. Non-profit galleries exhibited new and controversial works of local artists. And the need for cash increased at a much greater rate than funders could provide. Enter – the government.

 Cities and counties were tapped. New taxes were approved, and state arts councils made grants. But public dollars required public service, so money was made available for free events for the underserved, education programs, or other public art and cultural activities. These new grants required new programs and more staff.

 Businesses, foundations, UAFs and donors came under even more pressure to support the quality and diversity of all these activities. More funds were raised in many cases, but as the funding pie grew bigger, more pieces were being cut. The slices got smaller and smaller, and in many cases, some groups got no pie at all.

However, recently the economy ain’t doing so good to be perfectly frank. Funders are faced with more difficult choices like poverty, homelessness, education and drop out rates. They are concerned about the costs of overhead, program duplication, and how their contributions are aligned with the company’s charitable goals.

So here we are, and what do we do now? Our organizations need cash that doesn’t require more work for an already strapped staff. It’s your turn to help us answer some hard questions and provide solutions about private sector support for the arts. Please give us your feedback on the following questions:Is the failure of the arts to maintain market share a short-term problem related to increased social service, health and educational needs? Or will the problem persist long-term?

  1. How do we define the relevance of the arts to business in the face of urgent and basic social needs?
  2. Are funding losses a symptom of a more fundamental problem related to donors and funders not appreciating the arts?
  3. How can we engage the business community as arts participants in ways other than requesting cash donations?
  4. Foundations appear to be dropping the arts from their funding priorities. How can we reverse this trend?
  5. Can we find a better way to tell the story of the benefits of the arts on social issues like health care?
  6. Should United Arts Funds (UAFs) change from providing the majority of their grants for operating support to a multi-level approach to foster artistic, audience, and economic development

Follow this conversation thoroughly by adding the Private Sector Support for the Arts feed to your RSS reader. If you wish to share your comments anonymously, please feel free to use an alias in the “Name” box of the Comments section. Thank you for your feedback!

3 responses for So here we are, and what do we do now?


April 23, 2010 at 2:04 pm

The arts contribute to the vitality of a community. They bring people out of their homes to commune together for a shared experience, which has been shown to increase their sense of personal happiness, which in turn, increases consumer confidence, which directly affects local businesses' bottom line. While support for the impoverished is important, it doesn't stimulate economic activity for most business.

  • Please login to post comments.
March 29, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Social comments and analytics for this post...

This post was mentioned on Twitter by NAHM: So here we are, and what do we do now?: Welcome to the Green Paper discussion on Private Sector Support for the Ar...

  • Please login to post comments.
March 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm

I hope to participate more fully soon, but for now I'd like to weigh in on the very last question posed.

I strongly believe that UAF funds should remain channeled into operating funds. I work for a funding agency now, but have worked for various non-profit arts organizations. The sources of contributed revenue for operating costs have decreased markedly over the past 15 years. As is their prerogative, the largest foundation funders of the arts (Wallace, Ford, Doris Duke, etc.) have focused their funding on large-scale project support focused such issues as arts participation, arts education, and the role of the arts in economic development. These funds have led to great results. However, without organizational capacity to handle the project work, none of these outcomes could have been attained.

It costs money to keep the lights on (especially those bright stage lights!); it costs money to sell tickets; and it costs money to attract and retain smart artists and administrators who can responsibly and efficiently carry out the primary work of arts organizations -- to produce performances and exhibitions that change the way we see ourselves and others. Operating funds make serving that primary mission possible. UAF's, when successful (and trust me, I know they aren't the answer in every community) provide the funds that build capacity for project work and ensure access to the arts for citizens in their communities.

Thanks or opening up the conversation.

  • Please login to post comments.