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Public Funding for the Arts Reduces Sector Inequalities

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Feb 09, 2016

In an article in The Atlantic, Andy Horwitz traces the history of funding for the arts in the U.S., arguing that the NEA, while not without its flaws, serves as a counterweight to private funding that favors elite institutions. Without strong public support for the arts, small, culturally-specific organizations tend to receive a diminished portion of available resources. According to the article, “the arts aren’t dead, but the system by which they are funded is increasingly becoming as unequal as America itself.”

As individual giving and private foundation support have played an increasing role in the financial stability of arts organizations—in 2012, these sources accounted for 55 percent of revenue—organizations in under-resourced communities have suffered disproportionately.

“It should come as no surprise that people in minority, disenfranchised, and rural communities don’t usually have access to millionaires and billionaires who they can cultivate as donors. Nor should it shock that these organizations will suffer if the public-funding system that was helping them build capacity, gain cultural legitimacy, and become sustainable is decimated.”

Some argue that larger institutions should receive a more significant percentage of funding because they reach a larger audience. However, data from a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) suggests otherwise. The Atlantic article states, “out of the approximately 40,000 arts organization in the country with budgets over $25,000 per year, there are approximately 450 organizations whose budgets are over $10 million.” That leaves 39,570 organizations who, “even if they are only serving on average 1,000 people a year, in aggregate are serving significantly greater numbers of people,” according to researcher Holly Sidford in the report for NCRP.

Ultimately, Horwitz argues that “in an inclusive, pluralistic society, arts funding should reflect our increasingly diverse communities. Deliberately excluding art made by and for underrepresented communities goes against the spirit on which the NEA was founded.”

Read the full article here.

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