What Constitutes “Appropriate” Giving?
In January 2012, Pablo Eisenberg, a regular contributor to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, wrote an article titled, “Misplaced Giving Priorities of America’s Wealthy.” Eisenberg writes about the attention The Washington Post paid to David Rubenstein’s $7.5 million contribution to restore the Washington Monument, which had been closed due to damage incurred during the East Coast earthquake last year. Eisenberg finds this type of press coverage “disturbing.”
He writes, “First, they are signs of the misplaced giving priorities of the nation’s billionaires. Second, they show how lacking in skepticism the nation’s press—and so many other parts of society are—when it comes to raising tough questions about how much the wealthy give and where they direct their donations” (Eisenberg 2012).
Eisenberg also makes reference to “The Giving Pledge” in his article and argues that the Pledge should include the encouragement of a significant commitment to antipoverty programs. The Giving Pledge is an initiative of the Gateses and Warren Buffet to inspire and motivate their peers to commit a significant portion of their wealth to charity in a very public way. It’s a great concept and movement amongst the nation’s most wealthy. I am constantly surprised and inspired by the very personal letters of commitment posted on The Giving Pledge website (www.givingpledge.org), often explaining the individual’s or the couple’s relationship with money and the real challenge to be thoughtful benefactors of those issues and causes they hold dear. This movement has stimulated other similar projects like Bolder Giving (www.boldergiving.org) among individuals of lesser means.
The crux of Eisenberg’s article is that this nation is suffering and the wealthy should direct a significant portion of their wealth to alleviating that suffering. He says they need to “give until it hurts.” He also criticizes the media for highlighting large gifts such as Rubinstein’s to the Washington Monument instead of questioning whether there is a better use of those resources.
Individual Giving Supports the Arts
Since this issue of the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal focuses on what’s innovative in arts and culture in Philadelphia, I thought it a fitting platform to make the case that donors should be free to direct their money how they see fit. Funding arts and cultural programs as the nation rebounds from recession could actually be transformative, and there are many great examples of that in Philadelphia.
Let’s start with looking at some data. How have arts and cultural organizations faired since the economic decline? In its recent biennial report on the cultural sector in Philadelphia, Portfolio 2011, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance compared data collected in 2007 with data collected in 2009 from 405 groups across the region. The report shows that, despite sharp declines in corporate, foundation and government support, as well as investment and interest income, donations from individuals increased 20 percent over 2007 (pre-recession). Revenues from admissions, tickets and tuition increased 11 percent. Fees, including memberships and subscriptions, increased 8 percent. In an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about the report, Stephen Salisbury notes that, while nationwide statistics show a 5 percent decline in arts patronage, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance actually shows a significant increase in attendance at arts and cultural events in Philadelphia, making the city “something of an anomaly” (Salisbury 2011).
I believe that there is something inherent in the culture and infrastructure of Philadelphia that supports arts programming, and there is something in the programs themselves that makes art accessible and consumable.
The Role of Individuals and Small Funders
While my grantmaking background is mostly in social services, education and economic development, I have been reading and talking to people about the arts. I have realized two things from this research. First, I believe that large foundations, corporations and government funding should play the role of supporting increased patronage and accessibility on a broad scale. The second is that individuals and small funders are the true key to making arts and cultural programs a vibrant part of our community.
Recently, there have been interesting shifts in the way people support art. The traditional and most obvious way for the individual to support the arts is through ticket sales, admission or memberships. But two organizations are shaking up how the $32 billion in annual U.S. cultural support is given. Kickstarter funnels private donations to artists and touts itself as “the world's largest funding platform for creative projects” (Kickstarter n.d.). Artspire, sponsored by New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), is an online community for artists and arts organizations (Artspire n.d.). A program run by artists for artists, Artspire allows individual artists to fundraise using their tax-exempt status. These organizations are attracting attention from arts organizations and individuals who have witnessed and experienced government, foundation and corporate cuts.
In a report analyzing data from over 720 small to mid-sized foundations, Foundation Source found that support to arts and culture organizations increased by 41 percent from 2010 to 2011—the largest rise among all causes tracked in the survey—and now account for more than 11 percent of giving by such foundations (Barton 2012). The Leeway Foundation is one of these such funders. Established in 1993 to promote the welfare of women and to benefit the arts, the Leeway Foundation funds individual Philadelphia-focused women artists, arts programs and arts organizations. The Foundation supports artists at all stages and is committed to the making of art as an integral part of social change, movement building and anti-oppression work (Leeway Foundation n.d.).
Executive director Denise Brown of Leeway says, “We don’t define what art is; our grantees define it.” Brown talks passionately about the privilege to give support to both individuals and community organizations to experiment and explore new mediums. Her organization helps answer the question, how can I maximize my creativity? Brown has been surprised by artists’ creativity, but with that surprise comes a level of risk. Funders are called upon to take a leap of faith, to invest in projects that excite them. The environment needs to be such that it is okay to miss the mark, but hopefully it will continue to push forward into new realms and new ways of communicating. For Brown’s organization, there is a social change agenda. Artists have the ability to create a message without words and to capture people’s imagination. The Leeway Foundation brings awareness to the roles artists play in social justice and other issues of importance.
The Role of Large Funders
Philadelphia is blessed with large funders of the arts: Annenberg Foundation, William Penn Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts, just to name a few. However, support from these and other large funders have decreased since the recession. One role large funders could play is to support efforts for increased patronage and accessibility. In this way they could leverage their dollars and build stronger arts organizations with a sustainable flow of patronage. One example of this is the NYFA’s support of Artspire, the individual donation platform discussed above.
A great example in Philadelphia is ArtsRising, a collaboration among the Philadelphia Education Fund, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and Fleisher Art Memorial. ArtsRising functions as a builder, broker and bridge of arts educational opportunities. While the Philadelphia region is rich with arts and cultural resources, access to these opportunities is inequitable. Arts and cultural organizations, recognizing the increased demand for high-quality arts opportunities, are seeking sustained partnerships with schools but often find navigating school systems difficult. ArtsRising serves to bridge the rich cultural landscape and the needs of struggling at-risk youth.
ArtsRising creates ArtsZones as incubators and catalysts for broader and systemic change in arts education. The organization has a five-year plan to create fifteen ArtsZones to blanket the city with increased and better quality arts opportunities for children and youth (ArtsRising n.d.). According to executive director Varissa McMickens, many youth are disengaged and art can be part of the solution to re-engage. ArtsRising does not receive government funding and so depends on foundation, corporate and individual support. McMickens’ message to funders is a simple one: Every piece of research says that art is transformative in children’s lives. In a city like Philadelphia, which is rich in museums, theaters and schools, art should be integrated into the communities and learning environments. They are currently looking at three years of data to prove the theory that kids in ArtsZone schools are doing better academically. As a newcomer to the city, McMickens believes that Philadelphia has a reputation for innovation that is built into the fabric of our community. She sees art as a big part of what that innovation is all about.
Giving for Future Benefit
The Washington Monument was built to honor our nation’s first president. It welcomes over 500,000 visitors per year and is the largest freestanding masonry structure in the world. In 1835, members of the Washington National Monument Society crafted their ideals for what any proposed monument should embody. They wrote: “[It] should blend stupendousness with elegance, and be of such magnitude and beauty as to be an object of pride to the American people, and of admiration to all who see it.” To give so that this symbol will remain intact for future generations to see the importance of honor and beauty is not a misplacement of funds. When donors follow their own passions and direct their money toward the arts, they may rest assured that investments in the arts and culture sector could be wise investments. By supporting the arts during all economic climates, they ensure the foundations of communities standing strong through all times (Celebrate American Holidays n.d.).
Thank you to Denise Brown, Liza Herzog, and Varissa McMickens for their contributions to this column.
Teresa Araco Rodgers is an independent philanthropy advisor and Principal of harp-weaver LLC. Teresa is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy and serves clients in the Greater Philadelphia area.
Artspire. (n.d.). About Artspire. Available at http://www.artspire.org/.
ArtsRising. (n.d.). About ArtsRising. Available at http://www.myartsrising.org/.
Barton, N. (2012, February 19). Small Foundations Gave Bigger Share in 2011 Than Larger Ones, Study Finds. Chronicle of Philanthropy. Available at http://philanthropy.com/article/Small-Foundations-Gave-Bigger/130808/?sid=pt&utm_source=pt&utm_medium=en.
Celebrate American Holidays. (n.d.) Washington National Monument. Available at http://www.celebrate-american-holidays.com/Washington-National-Monument.html.
Eisenberg, P. (2012, January 24). Misplaced Giving Priorities of America’s Wealthy. Chronicle of Philanthropy. Available at http://philanthropy.com/article/Misplaced-Giving-Priorities-ofto “/130436/.
Kickstarter. (n.d.). Kickstarter Home Page. Available at http://www.kickstarter.com/.
Leeway Foundation. (n.d.). About Us. Available at http://www.leeway.org/.
Salisbury, S. (2011, September 16). Philadelphia Arts’ Shifting Financial Picture. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Available at http://www.dvg.org/news/73006/.