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Post #366 • September 14, 2004, 4:16 PM • 8 Comments

I have only ever heard of arts programs having less money than they need, and I wonder - did a time ever exist when arts programs flourished, flush with all the cash they could use? At the risk of going libertarian here, do I percieve correctly that arts programs have always faced funding crises, and that they inflicted financial problems upon themselves by expanding or multiplying to fill all available funding lines?



stephen lyons

September 15, 2004, 12:01 AM

Matthew Stadler, in an introductory essay for the catalog "Core Sample" ( notes that in the late 50's and early 60's a phenomenon known as "Fordism" occured when foundations (like the Ford Foundation) seeded arts groups and institutions with money. After the seeding and growth, these groups and institutions were left to do their own fundraising and as a result there is a constant lack of funding. It is an interesting thought. But it does suggest that, yes, once there was lots of cash around, but once the mission of the funding was fulfilled, it went away.


Todd Gibson

September 15, 2004, 12:09 AM

The Getty Center is still flush with cash. Because of tax rules, the foundation has to spend a certain percentage of its endowment every year. With the gazillion dollars in the endowment, the institution is able to get away with not charging admission and overpaying for old master works. It's a problem we would all love to have--how am I going to spend another $30m before the end of this fiscal year?



September 15, 2004, 3:11 AM

"It's astonishing. It's so hard to describe," says Deborah Cummins, chairwoman of the board of trustees for The Poetry Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed by the magazine to manage the funds bequeathed by philanthropist Ruth E. Lilly, the drug company heiress.

(a hundred million dolars, folks)


that guy in the back row

September 15, 2004, 4:25 AM

Luckily the money always goes to the most deserving and it is distributed fairly. I think we can all sleep better knowing that.
good night.



September 15, 2004, 4:47 AM

Okay, amassing a huge endowment and living off of the interest seems to enable exceptions to the above. But how commonly do such exceptions occur? Not often, I would guess.



September 15, 2004, 5:12 AM

There have been a few periods in the past when art and flush funding went hand in hand, but for the past 100+ years the opposite has been true -- the best art has struggled to emerge. Suggests that to be very good, art must pass through a tempering process, must be burned and beaten by those in power, before the focus on its own goodness can crystalize.

Unfortunately, too much burning and too much beating can consume the product, just as over tempering steel first destroys its ability to hold an edge, then destroys the steel itself.


Todd W.

September 15, 2004, 6:18 AM

Yes, most non-profits are constantly in search of cash. But aren't for-profits, too? How many companyies are so successful that they have no need to count costs and justify expenditures? In the dot-com era, it seemed this was the universal experience, but we all saw that it eventually catches up with you. This isn't a problem specific to arts organizations.



September 15, 2004, 7:06 AM

Hmm. The Getty example is definitely not typical of your average arts program funding scenario, although some foundations do encourage arts institutions to build endowments (they don't necessarily have to be as huge as the Getty's) specifically for this purpose.

As for "...inflict[ing] financial problems upon themselves by expanding or multiplying to fill all available funding lines?" - This may often be true, but the funding problem is complex and systemic. Many funders (particularly foundations) have a policy of not funding the same programs/organizations year after year. Funders have their own specific agendas. Government funding sources that do tend to provide more ongoing support are often the first to get hit with budget cuts (remember what happened here in Florida a little over a year ago?), which can seriously affect arts organizations no matter how intent they are on sticking to one set of clearly defined goals. It's definitely in their best interests for orgs to become more self-sustainable and entrepreneurial, but this can be difficult to put into practice (although this isn't an excuse not to make that a goal).'s complicated, and frustrating--especially since the arts definitely get the short end of the stick re: their level of priority in the public sector.



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