Arts Funding: Boston Lags Behind

(Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston)

A surprising report emerged in the Massachusetts nonprofit world earlier this month.

Commissioned by The Boston Foundation and penned by the research and consulting firm TDC, “How Boston and Other American Cities Support and Sustain the Arts” points to a dearth of institutional and corporate funding for arts organizations in Boston.

While the storied city boasts a strong arts scene – placing at the top of a list of US cities in terms of overall number of cultural nonprofits and revenue earned – Boston fares poorly in foundation and corporate philanthropic funding.

Foundation President Paul Grogan said that the findings are, in a sense, both positive and negative:

The good news is that this confirms that we’re punching way above our weight in terms of the health, vitality, and size of the cultural sector in this city. The bad news is, compared to other cities, certain kinds of financial support that other cities have put in place are not in place here, and that’s a particularly difficult thing for the small- and medium-size organizations.

The city is second only to San Francisco in number of cultural nonprofits per capita. Much of the city’s philanthropic funding – however – is eaten up by Boston’s largest cultural organizations, such as the Museum of Fine Arts, WGBH, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, leaving groups with smaller budgets and niche services with few resources.

While the report has raised questions about the city’s cultural identity, there has already been a swift response. Martin J. Walsh – the city’s mayor – announced on January 19th that the city will spend an additional $1 million funding the city’s artist-in-residence program, providing individual grants for artists, and creating a new artist resource desk at City Hall.

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