The recent development of tax policy concerns in Trenton has raised a great deal of thought about where exactly the nonprofit arts sector fits in.
Senator Tom Kean has introduced legislation (S334) that would allow for charitable contributions to be deducted from state taxable income. Its underlying assumption is that such an incentive would bolster private individual contributions, particularly to New Jersey-based organizations, and of course, therefore, its arts groups.
Senator Kean’s intent and constant support for the arts are unquestionable, but what about the shifts of thinking and resolve in all four sectors of private contributions: individuals, foundations, corporations, and government? I’ve listed them in order of magnitude within the budget of the average nonprofit arts organization when that data is aggregated. And individuals are by far the largest sector, as much as 60 percent.
Within the other three sectors, there has been, in the last five or so years, a fairly dramatic shift in the priorities of institutionally-based (and that includes government) charitable giving. The annual report of the New Jersey Center for Non-Profits, New Jersey Non-Profits 2016: Trends and Outlook Survey clearly shows this, and to the detriment of arts support.
First, charitable giving nationwide is down after having rebounded from the recession, which affects everyone. More importantly, where that money goes has shifted and is now concentrated in health, education, and social services, away from art & culture across all sectors of contributed income.
What concerns me is that policy and priority changes within foundations, corporations, and government have fueled that trend. I say “fueled” because report after report has demonstrated that those dollars help leverage individual charitable donations, not to mention the earning capacities of charitable organizations. This is especially true of government funding, which requires substantial private-sector match.
In other words, government as the smallest sector, less than 5 percent of budget, helps makes the other 95 percent reachable. And that dollar is often the first in the equation to leverage dollars from the other three. It is also what helps make arts programs financially accessible to the general public and protects them from returning to the pre-NEA era when the arts were largely the purview of wealthy individuals.
What this shift in funding priorities also does is ignore or at least under-recognize and under-value the undisputable ways that our charitable industry has enormous impact on the very issues the newly refocused corporations and foundations seek to support and empower.
The arts are sticky….thank goodness. They can connect to, enhance, expand, and improve virtually every other field of human interest, or vital social issue. And they do both by design, and through dynamic outcomes.
New Jersey’s arts community is rife with examples, and I have listed below just five that came to mind quickly while writing this post. They do so independently and as part of programs embedded in other institutions. It is ironic to me that our cross sector partners seem to be getting it, while more and more of their funders do not.
- NJ Ballet’s Dancing for Parkinson’s Program – designed to encourage and develop coordination, musicality, spatial awareness, creativity and technique.
- South Camden Theatre Company’s partnership with Heart of Camden to turn an abandoned firehouse into an art gallery
- Perkins Center for the Arts Empty Bowls Project that shares proceeds of handmade bowls filled with soup donated by local restaurants with the Food Bank of South Jersey and the Scholarship Fund at Perkins.
- Isles, Inc.’s plan for Arts@MillOne where the arts will anchor a sustainable urban village in Hamilton Township
So let me be blunt, because it is not about the arts pitting itself against other desperately important matters.
It is about remembering that the nonprofit arts are charitable by the virtue of their educational purpose. It’s also about state government fulfilling its obligations under existing law (NJ Hotel/Motel Occupancy Fee [P.L. 2003, c114] and the NJ Cultural Trust [S1328, 2000]), to support the nonprofit, charitable arts, historical, and cultural community, not just for their intrinsic worth to a healthy civil society, but for all the ways they are integral to pressing social issues: education, health, community and economic vitality, employment, and at-risk communities of all sorts.
So here is a battle cry moving forward — let the public charitable leverage live long and prosper so that government can once again drive private cultural philanthropy!
Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit ArtPride’s website. Photo at top: New Jersey Ballet’s Dancing for Parkinson’s Program.