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Donations to the Arts Are NOT Elitist?


by Jerome Weeks 9 Jan 2009

So argues Henry Fogel in his Artsjournal blog, On the Record. Fogel is senior advisor to the League of American Orchestras. He got ticked off by a recent Nicholas Kristoff column in the NYTimes about how, contrary to what might be popular expectations, liberals actually don’t give as much to charities as conservatives do (not […]

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So argues Henry Fogel in his Artsjournal blog, On the Record. Fogel is senior advisor to the League of American Orchestras. He got ticked off by a recent Nicholas Kristoff column in the NYTimes about how, contrary to what might be popular expectations, liberals actually don’t give as much to charities as conservatives do (not surprisingly perhaps, the DMN reprinted the column). Whether liberals actually have as much cash to donate wasn’t an issue.

While Fogel doesn’t have a gripe against Kristoff’s larger argument, he takes great exception to an aside that the columnist makes when he points out that, yes, liberals do tend to give to cultural or educational organizations. But these mainly benefit the “well-off,” Kristoff says. So it’s really a matter of self-interest.

Fogel’s angry counter to this: Many donations are actually designed to make the arts more available to wider audiences, there are more programs today designed for outreach to schools, for music therapy, for the under-privileged, for the community-at-large.

The truth is that great art is not a frilly entertainment for the upper classes. …

Every orchestra administrator I know considers it a responsibility to engage with an entire community, and to remove the barriers of “social elitism” that are perceived to surround our art form and others. In fact, charitable support to orchestras helps them to move in that direction, because community engagement and education programs are the things orchestras do that least pay for themselves.

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  • I think the statistic in reference compares percentage of income, not dollars, which is an appropriate metric for the measurement.

    Speaking hypothetically, if “conservatives” donate 6% of income on average, whereas “liberals” donate 4% of income, the dollar value is inconsequential.

    So if a conservative who earns $30,000 a year donates $1,800, and a liberal who earns $1 million a year donates $40,000, on a percentage basis, the conservative is more generous when looking at the overall ability to contribute.

  • Yes! Of course! I knew that, he said, hastily stuffing money into a sack out of sight of the IRS.