Patt Morrison for October 11, 2011

Is art only for the elite?

Mercer 1963

Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Atmosphere at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion after a performance by the Los Angeles Opera.

A new report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy raises some important questions about the way we fund the arts.

Traditionally, foundations give billions to elite and well-established institutions, like the symphony and major museums that serve a mostly affluent, white audience. This funding model continues despite the fact that the audience for those institutions is declining. The research shows that big budget arts organizations collect about 55 percent of foundation funding even though they represent “only 2 percent of the nonprofit arts and culture sector.” By contrast, about 10 percent goes to fund arts programs in underserved and poor communities.

The goal isn’t to withhold funding from some of our nation’s most prestigious art institutions says the author, but rather to share the wealth. The study warns that without a more equitable distribution of resources, a “pronounced imbalance restricts the expressive life of millions of people.”


Should we expand our support and understanding of what art is, where it comes from and where it’s going? Do major foundations have an obligation to support artistic diversity found in less traditional places? Or is there some value in being a “starving artist"?


Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

Maurine Knighton, leads the arts and culture programs for the Nathan Cummings Foundation

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