Giving Compass' Take:

• Helicon Collaborative examines why funders do not provide equitable funding for cultural philanthropy and instead reinforce existing hierarchies. 

• What are some ways that donors can improve cultural philanthropy? What is your role in closing these gaps? 

• Read more about how arts funding adapts to changing environments.

Growing numbers of leaders in the cultural sector are seriously concerned about issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. In recent years, arts foundations, cultural institutions, arts service organizations and others have launched a wide variety of efforts to address these concerns.

Yet the distribution of cultural funding is getting less equitable. Why is this, and what is the fix?

To understand why the trend line is going in the wrong direction, we must first acknowledge that the causes of our current situation are deeply rooted in the origins and design of our nonprofit arts sector itself, which sprung from Western European cultural values and fine arts traditions, and was deliberately structured to preserve them.

Larger social and economic systems, within which the nonprofit cultural system is embedded, are relevant here as well: structural racism, class and geographic bias, and the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few have made norms in the cultural sector particularly difficult to change.

Achieving greater fairness will take greater understanding of the systemic nature of the problems as well as strategic, persistent effort to unseat these tenaciously rooted forces.

The various foundation initiatives to address equity that we highlighted in the first post are important to both expand and accelerate. This includes foundations’ self-education and training on racism and bias; efforts to diversify foundation boards and staff; new funding for fellowships, presenting programs, exhibitions and other public programs that support a broader array of artists and cultural traditions; and commissioning research that illuminates inequities in the field and their consequences.

    1. Setting explicit goals for change.
      For arts foundations, and cultural organizations as well, change starts by articulating specific goals, and making explicit plans to reach them.
    2. Engaging wealthy donors to address equity with their funding.
      Many wealthy individuals may be inspired by the opportunity to exert leadership in addressing our widening social divides through demonstrating more inclusive cultural philanthropy themselves.
    3. Committing to collaborative action.
      Long-term change in the distribution of arts funding requires sustained effort at local levels. By looking at the structural nature of the issue, identifying shared goals for change and mobilizing the resources of multiple entities, including public and private funding sources, local coalitions can shift funding patterns in a systemic and long-term way.

Money is important, but this isn’t just about money. The inequities reported here will continue to widen unless there is a meaningful adjustment in funders’ thinking about the role of art and culture in our communities, and a values shift that stops privileging the few at the expense of the many.

Read the full article about cultural philanthropy from the Helicon Collaborative at Medium.