Why we are studying trends in cultural philanthropy

by Victoria Rogers


Private giving has never been a more important part of arts and culture in America. According to “Giving USA 2018”, an annual report on the state of philanthropy, private support for the arts rose to $20 billion last year.

The generosity of private donors doesn’t make up for the drop in public support, however. According to research from Grantmakers in the Arts, total public arts funding when adjusted for inflation decreased by 12.8 percent over the past 20 years. In real dollars, state arts agency appropriations decreased by 25 percent, local funding contracted by 9 percent, and federal funds have remained virtually flat.

There is great potential for private donors to expand their support and influence. While $20 billion is a significant number, it is only a small slice of the $410 billion in annual charitable giving.

As a key part of our mission to encourage informed and engaged communities, Knight Foundation funds anchor art and cultural institutions as well as the grassroots initiatives of individual artists and organizations. Over the years, we have been moved by the results — art that connects, engages, and delights in ways that reflect the rich diversity and identity of the cities where Knight invests.

We see thriving arts communities as essential to vibrant cities, healthy economies, and the future of democracy itself. We hope that Knight can be a catalyst for greater private arts funding across the United States.

Can new generations of philanthropists embrace the incredible power of the arts to improve education, energize communities, and elevate humanity? Over the next few years, an estimated $30 trillion will be transferred from aging populations to their heirs — the greatest intergenerational wealth transfer in American history. The generations inheriting great wealth are being shaped by our moment in history, and their giving habits will be different as a result.

That’s why Knight Foundation has decided to support a new research program designed to uncover ways to increase private support for the arts. The first phase, in collaboration with our partners at M+D, will be to study current trends in private arts giving, explore the strategies that guide cultural philanthropy today, and unearth the ideas that animate the next generation of funders.

As part of this process, we will survey arts benefactors, culture experts, artists, and philanthropists. We will ask about new frameworks for giving, new ways to measure outcomes, and the value of institutional partnerships. We will try to find out what is and is not working. We hope that the result will be a clear roadmap for the future of cultural philanthropy.

We hope you will contribute your intellect, experience, energy, and enthusiasm in support of this mission. By working together, we can turbocharge arts giving, create new pipelines for private investment, and have a more direct and positive impact on society for decades to come.

Jose Nava