Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arts funding doesn't show diversity

Brett Zongker this morning in the Seattle Times cites a study by the Washington-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy:
"Billions of dollars in arts funding is serving a mostly wealthy, white audience that is shrinking while only a small chunk of money goes to emerging art groups that serve poorer communities that are more ethnically diverse, according to a report being released Monday."

The jist of it is an unsurprising assertion that the opera/ symphony crowd is grabbing too much of the money.  What this slant evades completely is that BIG ARTs organizations get the money regardless of whether the art is that of dead white European males or of the kinds of organizations Zongker seems to favor:

Maurine Knighton, who leads the foundation's arts and culture programs, said changing the way foundations give grants is possible but will take time.
"You are dealing with shifting demographics that are fairly recent," and foundations will have to make a deliberate effort to catch up, Knighton said. "It's just a different way of considering how to be most effective with our grant dollars."
The Ford Foundation, a major arts funder that launched a $100 million initiative last year to develop spaces for diverse arts groups, has funded a dance center in New York's Chinatown, the New York Latino cultural center El Museo del Barrio, and community arts projects in Seattle, New Orleans, and elsewhere.
"There is no question that investing in a diverse array of arts and culture institutions is an important direction for funders," Darren Walker, the foundation's vice president for education, creativity and free expression, said in an e-mail. "In a country that is diversifying as fast as ours, it's even more important to lift up artistic voices that can help us understand who we are and who we are becoming."

Well, OK, diversity in cultural tradition counts for something, but dance centers and museums are useless while artists in these communities are working as waiters, employess in airport kitchens, and secretaries instead of performing for the local audience that is usurped by BIG ARTs organizations.

Government funding legitimizes established organizations and private funding follows it.  A new opera or dance company founded by and for local artists faces debilitating competition from organizations that are already too powerful and taking not only the lion's share of funding but monopolizing the local audience as well.  Indigeneous organizations can't afford to perform in the spaces built by "Ford's $100 million initiative last year to develop spaces for diverse arts groups." 

Finally the money from government and private contributions in local communities that does trickle down to artists and performers goes to those who are represented by financially advantaged New York management, not local singers, dancers, or visual artists.

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