Giving Compass' Take:

• Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, spoke at the National Museum of American History's Symposium about the ability for the arts to promote social change. The author goes on to examine the historical examples of how the arts helped our nation progress. 

Can we learn from our history? What inequalities still exist in today's society that we can rectify using the arts and philanthropy?

Read about how to disrupt arts philanthropy. 

The arts are “a space where we can give dignity to others while interrogating our own circumstances,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s annual symposium, The Power of Giving: Philanthropy’s Impact on American Life.

As Walker suggests, music, storytelling, drama, and other arts have an emotional impact that motivates giving time and money to causes, while philanthropic appeals help artists attract audiences.  To continue the conversation about the arts and giving, here’s a look at three objects that tell stories about how Americans used the arts to promote social change in the 1800s:

In the 1840s, the popular Hutchinson Family Singers from New Hampshire introduced music to the developing antislavery movement. As the sheet music for “The Grave of Bonaparte” suggests, the singers were concerned about freedom in other forms and many places, but they had their biggest impact on the American antislavery movement.

In the early 1880s, Russian Jewish refugees arrived in the United States fleeing brutal persecution at home. Newspapers around the country covered their plight and efforts to aid them. Using a common fundraising technique, supporters organized a benefit concert, featuring musical societies from Boston, Lynn, Salem, and Taunton, Massachusetts, to assist the refugees.

As philanthropists today look to the arts to effect social change, these objects offer reminders about why the arts and activism have had such a close relationship for centuries. The long tradition of Americans using the arts to move people to support all manner of philanthropic endeavors has shaped American society by advancing causes while also shaping American culture by fostering appreciation for the arts.

Read the full article about how the arts promote social change by Amanda Moniz at Smithsonian Second Opinion