Art Works Blog

Taking Note: The Demographics of Grant Dollars

"How Big Is Your World? Riverside, CA Multicultural Youth Festival III Riverside, Ca. April 29, 2007" by flickr user danorth1

Last week, after my presentation to the National Council on the Arts, newly appointed member Aaron Dworkin raised his hand. What did I think of a report just issued by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP)? I mumbled something about my high regard for its author Holly Sidford. I also referred to a recent blog entry by Diane Ragsdale. But later I realized that, apart from a few concessions to the report’s theme---a perceived lack of “cultural equity” in the arts ecosystem, as reflected by funding and programming priorities---I hadn’t answered Aaron’s question. Not really.

Here, then, are one researcher’s musings on the NCRP report. My remarks are far from comprehensive; rather, I’ve chosen to highlight additional questions which, if answered, may complicate its conclusions.

According to NCRP’s analysis of data from the Foundation Center, the vast majority of foundations fail to show that their arts-and-cultural grant dollars directly benefit at least one of 11 vulnerable populations identified by NCRP. Of 836 foundations that made funding “with a primary or secondary purpose of arts and culture” in 2007-2009, only 10 percent were classified as benefiting one of the 11 population groups. Eighteen percent gave at least 20 percent of their arts funding explicitly to “marginalized” communities, and only 5 percent gave 25 percent or more to “arts and social justice” programs.

The report also found that funders with lower proportional giving to arts and culture are more, rather than less, likely to award arts/cultural grant dollars explicitly to benefit marginalized groups. Between 2007 and 2009, “grant dollars donated by funders who committed just 5 percent to the arts were almost twice as likely to be classified as benefitting marginalized groups as the grants given by funders who donated more than 25 percent of their grants to the arts,” the report states.

As a researcher, I have no quibble with these stats, which speak for themselves. But I wonder if the picture would be different if we knew more about the demographic traits of participants who engaged in specific projects and activities supported by the 90 percent of foundations that did not expressly classify their grants as benefiting underserved populations? Likewise, what about the make-up of audiences (or other participants) who benefited from arts projects run by organizations that did not support “arts and social justice” programs?

Admittedly, we already know that U.S. adult audiences for traditional arts events (e.g., classical music, opera, ballet, non-musical theater) are less likely to be black or Hispanic than the general public. But those numbers, which the report also cites, derive from a nationally representative household survey, the NEA’s 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). What about the audiences of particular institutions?

For example, the report notes that according to data from the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics, just 2 percent of arts and cultural not-for-profits have an annual budget over $5 million, and yet they receive 55 percent of contributions, gifts, and grants. What do the audiences for those institutions look like?

I raise these questions not to undercut NCRP's persuasive findings (though I do question the report's sometimes facile use of the term "arts and social justice," as well as its claim that "all artistic practice [has] social goals"). I also realize that many foundation grants provide operational support, and not support for specific projects and activities. Yet I do think that without a clear understanding of the demographics of the populations served by specific arts projects, the story is incomplete. As the 2008 SPPA showed us, and as the report acknowledges, some types of arts activity---whether personal creation of art, festival attendance, or choir-singing---attract more diverse groups of Americans than other types. It stands to reason that arts funders would benefit from knowing about the demographic make-up of participants at all discrete activities supported by their grants---and not only which grants are labeled as explicitly benefiting vulnerable groups or addressing social justice.

At the NEA, we recently changed our grantees' final reporting requirements so that we now capture not only the number of people who benefit directly from an NEA-funded grant activity, but also their predominant race/ethnicity; age range; geography; urban, rural, or suburban status; and membership in special populations (e.g., military). On top of those measures, we now require grantees to report their project activities at the street address level, which allows us to identify the Census tracts where these activities occurred. Together, this data ideally will alert us to disparities that arise within various segments of our grantee communities.

As seems to be the case with many sustained inquiries about the arts, we need more and better data. What's going on at the grantee project level?

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