Business Donations to Arts Groups Fell in 2006-2009, Study Says

Gen Art Foundation
Attendees and donors at a Gen Art Foundation "Resurrection Benefit.'' The nonprofit, which shuts its doors this year, is one of the casualties of the recession. Photographer: Rob Loud/Rob Loud Photos via Bloomberg

The recession that began in December 2007 battered Gen Art Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes filmmakers and other artists. Gen Art saw steep drops in funding from American Express Co., Citibank N.A. and Honda Motor Co. The nonprofit closed in May, and an associated for-profit company, Generational Art Production Inc., went bankrupt in July.

“To see the company collapse over 18 months after building it and the foundation for 15 years was pretty devastating,” Ian Gerard, Gen Art’s executive director, said in a phone interview.

Corporate giving to the arts fell broadly in the period 2006-2009, dropping to 28 percent from 43 percent of 600 businesses surveyed in a study released yesterday by the Business Committee for the Arts, a program founded by philanthropist David Rockefeller in 1967 to promote businesses’ cultural philanthropy. BCA is a unit of the Washington-based advocacy group Americans for the Arts.

The study shows that during the period, larger businesses ($50 million or more in revenue) pared donations, while medium-sized ($1 million to $50 million) and small companies (under $1 million) boosted giving.

The median point for gifts from large businesses declined to a $15,000 from $25,000 during those three years. For small businesses, donations grew to $700 from $500, and gifts from medium-sized businesses grew to $2,250 from $2,000.

“In the overall arts budget scene across America, there is a very thin line between black and red,” said Robert L. Lynch, Americans for the Arts chief executive officer. “Slippage in any donation area is a problem.”

Telephone Poll

The BCA survey numbers were based on a telephone poll conducted in 2009 by Shugoll Research Inc. of 600 small, mid-size and large U.S. companies. The study was released only this month because of the time it took to compile and analyze the data, BCA spokeswoman Catherine Brandt said in a phone interview.

Of the businesses surveyed, 27 percent said that supporting the arts was among their highest priorities, 2 percent said it was a top priority, 50 percent said funding the arts was of moderate importance, and 6 percent said it was a “very low priority.”

About 67 percent said they expect donations this year to remain the same as in 2009, while 22 percent predicted a decrease and 10 percent said gifts would rise.

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