Arts Giving Needs to Contribute More to the Common Good

For those of you who have been following our recent article on 2009 arts giving trends, you know that arts giving in 2009 in Minnesota fell to its lowest level since 2003, but there is hope on a national level for a rebound in 2011. According to the article Arts Giving is Up, But Hold the Applause by Joel Rose from National Public Radio, charitable giving for the arts was up 5% so far in 2011. The star example of this mini renaissance is the Metropolitan Opera which had a fifty percent increase in donations this year, a record campaign bringing in over $182 million dollars.

What does the “hold the applause” refer to? The majority of money given went to serve audiences that are whiter and wealthier than the American average, and to large organizations that primarily serve Western European culture, like opera houses, art museums and classical music groups. The majority of foundations give to arts organizations with yearly budgets exceeding $5 million.

Now, I personally love the Minnesota Opera and would be thrilled to see it also have a blockbuster fundraising year, and as an individual I have every right to support what fits my tastes. But what about large grantmaking organizations? What obligations do they have to ensure an equitable, inclusive and diversified field of grantees get funding?

One solution to increasing the diversity in arts grantmaking may be to make grants available tailored to the needs and capabilities of small arts organizations, which tend to be more diverse.  Some grantmakers already offer small grants to promote community art and multi-cultural or ethnic art initiatives. At MCF member The St. Paul Foundation, the Asian Pacific Endowment specializes in funding community-based organizations and informal grassroots groups with budgets under $500,000. In 2010, this endowment funded projects that used culture, including the arts, to address social issues that affect the Asian Pacific Islander community in Minnesota. One example of the grant projects that the Asian Pacific Endowment funded is the Bon Odori pictured above, performed annually at the Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival in Como Park. Initiatives like the Asian Pacific Endowment are first steps towards ensuring that arts funding in Minnesota diversifies, truly serving the common good.

- Kaitlin Ostlie, MCF administrative assistant

Photo courtesy of the Japan America Society of Minnesota

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