Foundation Grants to Arts and Culture, 2010

A One-year Snapshot

Steven Lawrence and Reina Mukai


   Arts Funding Snapshot: GIA's Annual Research on Support for Arts and Culture (3.5Mb)

Giving by US foundations stabilized in 2010 at almost $46 billion but remained nearly $1 billion below the peak level recorded in 2008. This overall stability masked the reductions in giving reported by a large share of this country’s more than 76,000 grantmaking foundations. For some of these foundations, including those that had increased their payout rate in 2009 to shore up support for their grantees, their endowments remain below peak levels, necessitating adjustments to their long-range giving levels. Others reduced giving as they underwent strategic reviews of their grantmaking — a process that takes place in both more and less prosperous times. Conversely, some new and newly large foundations reported substantial growth in their giving, which helped to balance out reductions by other funders.

In contrast to the roughly unchanged level of foundation giving overall, the following analysis shows that a matched set of the nation’s largest foundations decreased their grant authorizations by just over 9 percent between 2009 and 2010. While the majority of fields showed reductions in support, foundation commitments for arts and culture grew from the prior year. Despite this positive indicator, continued economic volatility means that it will take several more years to determine whether the Great Recession had a lasting impact on foundation funding for the arts. Prior experience and Foundation Center surveys during the crisis suggested that the arts would not suffer more than other fields. But more time will be needed to validate that conclusion.


The Foundation Center offers these key findings from GIA’s eleventh snapshot of foundation giving to arts and culture. The definition of arts and culture used for this snapshot is based on the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities and encompasses funding for the performing arts, museums, visual arts, multidisciplinary arts, media and communications, humanities, and historical preservation. Most importantly, the findings tell us about the changes in foundation giving for the arts between 2009 and 2010 by a matched set of 470 funders 1 and the distribution of 2010 arts and culture giving by a larger sample of 1,330 foundations. They are based on all arts grants of $10,000 or more reported to the Foundation Center by these sets of the largest US foundations, hereafter referred to as “the sample.” 2 The center has conducted annual examinations of the giving patterns of the nation’s largest foundations for more than three decades.

Foundation funding for arts and culture increased in 2010. Arts funding was up 5.5 percent between 2009 and 2010, compared to a 9.2 percent reduction in overall giving by these foundations. Of the ten major funding areas, only human services, science and technology, the social sciences, and arts and culture posted growth in giving.

Arts funding held a slightly larger share of total dollars included in the full 2010 grants sample. Among the full set of 1,330 foundations included in the grants sample for 2010, arts giving totaled $2.3 billion, or 11.1 percent of overall grant dollars. This share was up from 10.5 percent in 2009.

The size of the median arts grant remained unchanged. The median arts and culture grant size — $25,000 — did not change from 2009 to 2010, although the real value of the median grant decreased due to inflation. The unadjusted value was also equal to the median amount for all foundation grants in the latest year and has not changed since 1993.

Large grants account for more than half of arts grant dollars. Large arts grants of $500,000 and more captured nearly 55 percent of total grant dollars for the arts in the 2010 sample, down slightly from 56.1 percent in 2009.

Relative to other fields, a larger share of arts grant dollars provided operating support. In 2010, general operating support accounted for 32.4 percent of arts and culture grant dollars. This represented the largest share compared to the nine other major funding areas. While this share was down from 35 percent in 2009, just 13 percent of arts grant dollars in 1989 provided operating support.

Top arts funders accounted for a smaller share of overall giving. The top twenty-five arts funders by giving amount provided 38.5 percent of total foundation arts dollars in 2010, up from the approximately 35 percent in 2009. The share of arts giving accounted for by the top funders remains well below the more than 50 percent shares recorded in the early 1980s.

Please note

It is important to keep in mind that the foundation grantmaking examined here represents only one source of arts financing. It does not examine arts support from earned income, governments, individual donors, or the business community. This analysis also looks only at foundation arts support for nonprofit organizations, and not for individual artists, commercial arts enterprises, or informal and unincorporated activities. In addition, the analysis of changes in giving between 2009 and 2010 is based on a matched subset of 470 funders, while statistics on the distribution of funding and actual dollar amounts and numbers of grants are based on the full set of 1,330 grantmakers included in the Foundation Center’s 2010 grants sample (see note 1).

Specific Findings

Overall foundation dollars for the arts. The 1,330 larger foundations included in the Foundation Center’s 2010 sample awarded 20,573 arts and culture grants totaling $2.3 billion, or 11.1 percent of overall grant dollars (figure 1). Arts giving rose 5.5 percent between 2009 and 2010, compared to a 9.2 percent decline in grant dollars overall. Among the nine other major subject areas tracked by the center, only three other areas — human services, science and technology, and the social sciences — grew during this period. Among the six remaining areas, four registered double-digit declines in grant dollars, including public affairs/society benefit, religion, health, and international affairs (figure 2).

The impact of exceptionally large grants. Every year and in all funding areas, a few very large grants can skew overall totals, creating distortions in long-term grantmaking trends. In 2010, 16 arts and culture grants totaled at least $10 million, and instances where these grants had a notable impact on grantmaking patterns are identified in the following analyses. Despite the potential fluctuations caused by these exceptional grants, Foundation Center data in all fields have always included them, providing consistency over time. (In addition, the Foundation Center provides statistics based on share of number of grants, which are not skewed by exceptionally large grants.)

Corporate foundations represent an important source of support for arts and culture. While corporate foundations account for less than 4 percent of US private and community foundations, the larger corporate foundations included in the 2010 grants sample provided 12.1 percent of grant dollars for the arts (figure 3). Actual grant dollars totaled $276.1 million. By number, corporate foundations allocated 4,212 grants, or 20 percent of the overall number of arts grants in 2010.

Grants by arts subfield

Funding for the performing arts (33.2 percent) and museums (32.6 percent) each accounted for roughly one-third of all foundation arts dollars in 2010 (figure 4). From the start of the 1980s until 1997, the performing arts consistently received more foundation support than museums. However, museums have surpassed the performing arts by share in several recent years (1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2009). More study would be needed to adequately understand the underlying reasons for the shifts in share between these two fields of activity, for example, the entry onto the scene of new and large arts funders, extraordinarily large grants, the contribution of valuable art collections, and new capital projects at museums.

Giving to performing arts. In 2010, performing arts grant dollars increased 27.6 percent, although the number of grants rose much less (3.8 percent). A total of 8,344 grants was awarded for the performing arts by the overall set of 1,330 foundations — close to double the number reported for museums — and their value surpassed $755 million. In general, the average performing arts grant tends to be smaller in size than the average museum grant. The largest share of giving to the performing arts supported the performing arts generally (including performing arts centers and education), and music (including symphony orchestras and opera), followed by theater and dance. The largest arts grant in the latest sample was a $53.3 million award from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to the Nevada-based Smith Center for the Performing Arts to construct a building shell for a children’s discovery museum and construction of the Donald W. Reynolds Symphony Park.

Giving to museums. Grant dollars allocated to museums declined by nearly 33 percent between 2009 and 2010. However, the number of grants they received increased 11.4 percent. The 1,330 foundations included in the full sample awarded 4,396 grants totaling $742.1 million for museums in 2010. Among museum types, nearly half of funding (48.7 percent) supported art museums.

Giving to multidisciplinary arts. The share of arts giving for multidisciplinary arts 3 increased to 9.5 percent in 2010. Actual dollars awarded for multidisciplinary arts was also up 11.7 percent from 2009.

Giving to media and communications. Support for media and communications 4 represented 8.9 percent of arts funding in 2010, down from 11.2 percent in 2009. However, grant dollars rose just over 26 percent in the latest year.

Giving to historic preservation. Support for historic preservation increased 3.3 percent between 2009 and 2010, although the number of grants declined 4 percent. Within the full set of grantmakers, historic preservation benefited from $126.6 million in 2010.

Giving to the humanities. Funding for the humanities 5 rose to 5.1 percent of arts grant dollars in 2010 up from 3 percent in 2010. Support for the field rose over threefold during this period.6 The increase was due in part to a rise in the number of larger grants in 2010 for the humanities.

Giving to the visual arts. Grant dollars for the visual arts and architecture was up 56.7 percent between 2009 and 2010, and the number of grants for the field increased 26 percent. Within the full set of grantmakers, visual arts and architecture benefited from $72.8 million in 2010, down slightly from $74.9 million in 2009.

Grants by types of support

An important caveat to a report on the allocation of foundation dollars by specific types of support is that for roughly 22 percent of arts grant dollars in the 2010 Foundation Center sample, the type of support could not be identified. This means that modest differences in percentages — that is, variations under 10 percent — may not be reliable. (The grant records available to the Foundation Center often lack the information necessary to identify the type of support. For example, it is often the case that the only source of data for this sample on foundations’ grants is the 990-PF tax return, and this tends to be less complete than other forms of grant reporting.)

The arts compared to other foundation fields of giving. The three largest categories of support tracked by the Foundation Center are program support, general operating support, and capital support. Of these, special programs and projects typically receive the largest share of arts and culture grant dollars and grants. In fact, the same is true in most of the major fields, such as health and education, where program support consistently accounts for the largest share of funding.

General operating support accounted for the second largest share of arts grant dollars in 2010 (32.4 percent). The shares of grant dollars and number of grants allocated for this type of support in 2010 were higher for arts and culture (32.4 percent and 36.6 percent, respectively) than for all other fields. Moreover, the portion of grant dollars allocated to this type of support has risen markedly over the past two decades; operating support represented only 13 percent of arts funding in 1989.

Capital support captured roughly 22 percent of the share of arts grant dollars in 2010, up from 20.3 percent in 2009. The share of grant dollars allocated for this type of support was higher for arts and culture than for all but one field (science and technology). Grants for capital support are larger on average than awards for program and general operating support, and exceptionally large capital grants can have a pronounced effect on the distribution of funding by type of support. In fact, arts dollars allocated to capital support have fluctuated more than arts dollars to the other two primary categories of support: in 1986 the share allocated to capital was about 44 percent; in 1993 it was about 30 percent; and in 1999 it was about 41 percent. (In general, the share of capital support is highest in periods of strong foundation asset growth.)

Arts grants by specific types of support. Table 1 provides a breakdown of more specific types of support within the larger support categories and lists both the specific dollar value and number of grants made in each type. As with all data in the Snapshot, it is important to keep in mind that this table includes only grants of $10,000 or more awarded to organizations by a sample of 1,330 larger foundations. It is also important to note that approximately 22 percent of the arts grant dollars in this sample were not specified for a type of support.

Grants by grant size

Median grant size. The median or “typical” grant amount 7 for arts and culture in 2010 was $25,000, which matched the median amount for all foundation grants ($25,000). This amount has remained unchanged since 1993. If this amount were adjusted for inflation, however, it would have lost value in real dollars. More study would be required to determine whether the unchanged median means that foundation arts grants simply are not keeping pace with inflation, or whether, in combination with the increased number of grants, it means that foundations are choosing to distribute funds more broadly to a larger number of recipients.

Small and mid-sized grants. Two-thirds (66 percent) of all arts grants in the 2010 sample were for amounts between $10,000 and $49,999 (table 2), almost identical to the 2009 share. The share of mid-sized arts grants ($50,000 to $499,999) also remained fairly consistent at just over 30 percent.

Large grants. The share of larger arts grants ($500,000 and over) also held steady over the same period: larger grants represented 3.4 percent of the total number of arts grants in 2010, compared to 3.5 percent in 2009. Their share of total grant dollars was nearly unchanged at 54.8 percent, compared to 56.1 percent in 2009. Overall, foundations in the sample made 93 arts grants of at least $2.5 million in 2010, up from 85 in 2009.
In addition to the $53.3 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts (noted earlier), examples of other especially large grants in the 2010 sample included the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $30 million award to the Smithsonian Institution for its Youth Access Endowment; the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation’s $20 million grant for the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts; and the Amon G. Carter Foundation’s $10.5 million operating grant for the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art.

The twenty-five largest arts funders. The top twenty-five arts funders by giving amount provided 38.5 percent of the total arts dollars in the Foundation Center’s 2010 sample (table 3), up from 35.3 percent in 2009. Overall, the share of giving accounted for by the top twenty-five arts funders has fluctuated between 33 and 39 percent since the end of the 1990s. By comparison, in the early 1980s the top twenty-five arts funders accounted for more than half of the grant dollars in the sample. This suggests that the base of large arts funders has widened since that time, making arts funding less concentrated among a small number of foundations.

Top foundations by share of arts giving out of overall giving. Of the foundations that committed large percentages of their grant dollars to arts and culture, many are the smaller foundations in the sample (table 4). Among the top 100 foundations ranked by share of arts giving out of total giving, two-thirds of foundations (66) gave less than $5 million in total arts grant dollars in 2010. This share would be greater if grants of less than $10,000 were included, because some arts funders will either primarily or exclusively award arts grants of less than $10,000 each.

Giving for international cultural exchange

Foundation grant dollars targeting international cultural exchange fell for the second year in a row, down 24.6 percent between 2009 and 2010. The Foundation Center’s full 2010 grants set included 153 grants related to international cultural exchange totaling $11.8 million. Among the largest of these awards was a $954,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the French American Cultural Exchange for the Partner University Fund, whose mission is to support innovative and sustainable partnerships between French and US institutions of research and higher education.


  1. Over time, the sample size has changed, which could also distort year-to-year fluctuations in grant dollars and grants targeting specific activities or populations. To account for these potential distortions year-to-year, the Foundation Center has analyzed changes in giving based on a matched set of funders.
  2. Source of the data. The original research upon which this report is based was conducted by the Foundation Center. Specifically, the source for data was the Foundation Center’s Grants Stats posted on the Gain Knowledge section of the center’s website and the grants sample database. The data for “circa 2010” include all grants of $10,000 or more awarded by 1,330 of the largest US foundations and reported to the Foundation Center between August 2010 and September 2011. Approximately three-fifths of grant dollars represent 2010 grant authorizations or payments, with the balance reflecting 2009 authorizations or payments. (The incorporation of “older” data reflects delays in the availability of timely grants information.) The grants sample typically represents about half of total grant dollars awarded annually by the more than 76,000 active US independent, corporate, and community foundations that the Foundation Center tracks. (The sample also captures roughly half of all foundation giving for arts and culture.) For community foundations, only discretionary and donor-advised grants were included. Grants to individuals were not included.
  3. Includes support for multidisciplinary centers, ethnic/folk arts, arts education, and arts councils. For a detailed analysis of foundation funding for arts education, see L. Renz and J. Atienza, Foundation Funding for Arts Education (New York: Foundation Center, 2005.)
  4. Includes support for the production and dissemination of one or more media forms, including film/video, television, radio, and print publishing; and support for journalism and communications centers.
  5. Includes support for archeology, art history, modern and classical languages, philosophy, ethics, theology, and comparative religion.
  6. For a detailed analysis of foundation humanities support, see L. Renz and S. Lawrence, Foundation Funding for the Humanities (New York: Foundation Center, 2004).
  7. The median — meaning that half of the grants are above and half are below the amount — is generally acknowledged to be a more representative measure of the typical grant than the mean or “average,” because the median is not influenced by extreme high or low amounts.