There is no doubt that the arts have faced, and continue to face, challenging times. Subscription numbers trend downward, putting increased pressure on each show to be a hit and sell lots of individual tickets. Total contributed income has been decreasing at many arts organizations, or at least has not grown fast enough to match increased costs and growing artistic ambitions. Words rarely associated with arts organizations in the past are becoming increasingly common: declaring bankruptcy, downsizing, and even going out of business.
In this challenging new reality, there is at last a ray of hope. In the recently completed triennial BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts conducted by Americans for the Arts, corporate giving is up for the first time in nine years. From 2009 to 2012, arts giving from corporations is up 18 percent. Before we all get too excited at what sounds like a huge number, remember arts giving is up 18 percent over three years, an average of a more modest 6 percent per year. And arts giving has only recovered to 2006 levels (although the survey does not adjust giving for inflation).
But the upward progress cannot be denied on almost any measure in the survey: the percent of businesses contributing to any philanthropic cause is up from 52 percent in 2009 to 64 percent today; the percent of all businesses giving to the arts is up from 28 percent in 2009 to 41 percent today; the percent the arts receive of total philanthropic contributions is up from 15 percent to 19 percent; the median contribution to the arts is the largest it has been in 6 years, up from $750 in 2009 to $1,000 today. And there is hope that these trends will continue as slightly more businesses today say they expect their total philanthropic giving, as well as their arts giving, to increase rather than decrease in 2013.
Does that mean everything is rosy for corporate arts giving? Alas, that would be too good to be true. Over a quarter of corporations supporting the arts say arts giving is a very low or fairly low priority for them. This suggests that a good slice of this giving is annually at risk as the arts compete for philanthropy with many valuable educational and social causes. Further, when businesses that support the arts are asked what might get them to increase their arts contributions, nearly six in ten say the arts must show a proven need for the contribution. When your own supporters tell you that you need to do a better job of proving need, clearly the arts have not told its story well enough. And what about converting arts non-givers to givers? This will take a significant effort (and, possibly, more resources than are available). This is because only around one of three non-givers strongly agrees that the arts contribute to the economy and the quality of life in a community (vs. 62% of arts contributors). And 16 percent or fewer think the arts can stimulate creative thinking and problem solving, offer networking opportunities and the potential to develop new business and build market share, enhance acceptance of diversity in the workplace, enhance employee team-building, advance corporate objectives, offer special benefits for employees, and help recruit and retain employees. Not only have the arts not made a strong case to non-givers, they likely haven’t even captured the ear of this segment of the corporate world.
Ah, but today, why complain? Corporate arts giving is up after a significant downturn. How should we celebrate? Maybe play hooky from work and spend the day at a museum and the evening at a performance. But don’t tell the boss (or bring the boss with you!).