To Have and Have Not

These past three years or so, I have found that I’m using the phrases “in this economic climate” or “in these tough economic times” or some variation, a lot when discussing the state of the organization that I run. Times are tough, you’d have to be living under a rock (or be a CEO of a large banking house) not to know that money is in short supply. When you talk of cultural organizations it is even more challenging. However, even among cultural organizations, I’m including history museums, historic sites, libraries, archives, art museums, theatre and the performing arts under this umbrella term, things are far from being equitable. Recently when searching the Foundation Directory Online for potential granting organizations to which to apply for funding various projects, I found a great disparity between what is available for historical organizations versus arts groups. When you search this database you can check boxes beside terms that best describe what your organization does. For example, terms like historical society, history museum, education, art museum, performing arts, etc. are all included. Then the foundations that have listed these areas as ones which they prefer to fund will come up. Since my organization collects art, primarily art with historical connections, I thought I would play around with the box next to art museum or art exhibits along with the history terms. I can’t say I was surprised at what happened since I had always had the sense that the arts community was better funded than the history community, but the disparity in the number of grant opportunities was pretty sobering. The Foundation Directory Online database contains information on over a million grants nationwide for a wide range of projects and causes. By simply including “art” in my search the available grants that it returned increased by not tens of thousands but hundreds of thousands over what I found when I only had historical terms chosen.

But these are private foundations. Surely support from public sources would be more equitable. I checked into that with my friends on the state level in Maryland and found funding to be equally disparate. In Maryland, we have a state arts council which for bureaucratic purposes is located in the department of economic development, and we have the Maryland Historical Trust which is located in the department of planning. This blog post would be too long if I tried to figure out why these two cultural arms are stuck in very different parts of the state bureaucracy. Anyway, here are the budget numbers for each department’s funds available for grants to non-profit institutions for FY 2012:
Maryland State Arts Council: has $8.9 million available for unrestricted operating support of arts organizations throughout the state.

Maryland Historical Trust: has $2.2 million for grants to institutions within designated heritage areas (there are historical organizations that are not located within a heritage area which means they do not have access to this grant program). There is also the Museum Assistance Program within the Trust which provides unrestricted operating support grants for history museums. In 2012 this program was not allocated any funds at all.

So, there you have it. Arts organizations in Maryland have four times the funds available for their projects and programs than history groups do. This is not just in Maryland but is a fairly common situation throughout the country. I wonder how many people are aware that when they say they think it is important to support arts and culture the culture part falls woefully short.

1 Comment

  1. Sara Holmes

    It’s been that way for years, perhaps since the beginning? As a student I do fondly remember one person I interned with using the phrase “Arts and Craps” when we were pursuing funding. Considering how long now we have been “in these times,” I was greatly relieved to get notification that I’m still reviewing grant proposals at all this coming year!

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