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“Just as funders got behind abstract expressionism in the 1950s and 60s … there are aesthetic developments in the arts that funders need to keep pace with, and this is one of them,” Sidford said.

Still, the study is not meant to discourage funding for traditional symphonies, operas or museums. Rather, Dorfman said funders should make sure they are supporting projects at those institutions that will be inclusive of a broader audience.

At the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York, the report’s message ties in with the foundation’s mission for the past 20 years to fund diverse arts programs that address social justice issues. 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.”

Some other foundations were reluctant to comment.

Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and an expert in turning around struggling arts organizations of all sizes, said many large foundations seek to fund diverse groups. Kaiser said diverse arts groups he consults with often need to diversify their funding sources.

“The biggest issue for arts organizations of color is that they have been overly reliant on foundation and government funding,” he said. Such groups “really need more individual donors, not just foundation donors.”



National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy:


Brett Zongker can be reached at