Art for Art's Sake? Hardly!
In a recent commentary by investor billionaire William H. Gross and quoted in the New York Times (“Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity”), Gross states, “When millions of people are dying of AIDS and malaria in Africa, it is hard to justify the umpteenth society gala held for the benefit of a performing arts center or an art museum
A $30 million gift to a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a Napoleonic coronation.”
I beg to differ. While clearly there are terrific humanitarian needs in the world, one cannot separate the arts from economic well being. Over and over, studies show that there is a direct economic benefit in areas where there are established arts organizations. The study, “Arts & Economic Prosperity III,” shows that, in the U.S., “the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year—$63.1 billion in spending by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by their audiences.” This economic activity generates the following results:
• 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
• $104.2 billion in household income
• $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
• $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
• $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues
Does that look like a Napoleonic coronation to you?
Surely I don’t need to argue the other societal benefits that arts and access to art institutions bring to communities. Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation, sums those benefits up beautifully: “There is no better indicator of the spiritual health of our city, its neighborhoods, and the larger region than the state of the arts.”
Carla Dearing, president and CEO of GivingNet, points out in a recent blog post that community foundations are increasingly aware of the absolutely vital relationship between arts and downtown development. “ Arts establishments are, in fact, the drivers of community and economic development in many downtown neighborhoods.”
Philanthropic gifts to arts organizations are more important than ever, as government funding for the arts continues to wane. In a recent video on the subject of donors who fund the arts, Association of Small Foundations president Tim Walters notes that, “arts donors are often overtly investing not just to make the world beautiful but also to promote the types of innovation that our Information Economy requires in order to prosper.”
Mr. Gross might know a lot about investing in the stock market, but he is way off base with regard to the philanthropic investment needed for a community to truly thrive. Investment in the arts is good for everyone.