Only a handful of performing arts centers have opened in recent years across the country. Last fall the $366 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts debuted in Kansas City, Missouri with back-to-back sold out performances. An early pledge over $100 million through Julia Kauffman contributed to fulfill her mother Muriel’s original vision.
Two months later Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Arkansas. The last time a museum opened with this caliber of an American art collection was a half century ago. Once again the money came from private sources, namely Alice Walton, heiress to the Walmart fortune, who funded the museum and its acquisitions, Walmart, which is sponsoring free admission for the foreseeable future and the Walton Family Foundation, which endowed $800 million—the largest cash donation on record to a U.S. art museum.
What is even more remarkable than the theater and museum being constructed during a recession and opening in cities many in the art circle consider the most unlikely of places is the fact that the arts are being funded again. Life aside, art imitates our economy.
According to the Giving USA™’s report on 2011 charitable donations, overall giving increased for a second year in a row. Giving USA estimates total donations at $298.42 billion in 2011, reflecting similar gains across the economy. The numbers represent a 4 percent growth in current dollars and .9% in inflation-adjusted dollars. Giving USA categorizes charities into 10 sectors. All but two sectors, religion and foundations, experienced gains.
“America’s charities have been traveling down a very rocky road in recent years, as evidenced by the data in our annual estimates and reports from those working in the field,” said Jim Yunker, Ed.D., chair of Giving USA Foundation™. “Our Board members are cognizant of that reality but also see a bright spot–charitable giving, like other spending categories in the average American household budget, seems to be climbing out of the trough that resulted from the Great Recession, much like some other indicators measuring the state of the economy.”
Traditionally patrons of the arts are high net worth individuals and Kauffman and Walton could arguably epitomize the definition of high net worth. Granted the Kauffman Center and Crystal Bridges are extreme examples. Of course economic hardships do not impact the wealthy’s daily lives like they affect most of us, not even close. However, a recent study shows we regular folk have something in common with high net worth families when it comes to charitable giving.
The 2010 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, which tracks shifts and trends in the giving behaviors of our nation’s wealthiest donors, revealed that economic uncertainty affects their financial decisions too. The study found 71.2 percent of wealthy households report they give when they feel financially secure.
Charitable donations overall took a double digit hit from 2007 to 2009. Service-based organizations were stretched to the breaking point just to provide basic essentials as demand skyrocketed. Funding the arts seems frivolous when people are losing their homes and livelihoods in record numbers.
Giving to arts, culture and humanities, the least funded philanthropic sector during a recession, increased 4.1 percent in 2011. Research at the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University also suggests a correlation between charitable giving and the economy. In an abstract way the Kauffman Center, Crystal Bridges and the estimated $13.12 billion donated to the arts last year signals a stabilizing economy and better times right around the corner for the 99% living on Main Street.
Jeffrey Byrne is Founder & CEO of Jeffrey Byrne & Associates. Since 2000 his firm has assisted nonprofits across the U.S. in raising nearly one billion dollars. Jeffrey is a thought leader in philanthropy and his firm is a member of Giving USA, the fundraising and philanthropic arm of the Giving Institute: Leading Consultants to Nonprofits where he is Second Vice Chair.