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Funding Scarce For Minority Arts Groups

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A funding watchdog based in the District claims private philanthropy for the arts isn’t doing enough to support poor and ethnically diverse patrons of the arts.

In a new report released this week, the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy claims billions of dollars in private arts funding is being funneled to an increasingly shrinking, mostly rich, largely white audience. Meanwhile, the funds for emerging art groups which serve racially diverse, sometimes lower income communities are being choked off.

The largest arts organizations in the region and the U.S. represent only 2 percent of nonprofit arts and culture groups. Despite that share, those groups received 55 percent of foundation funding for the arts in 2009, while groups which address underserved communities received only 10 percent, according to Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the NCRP.

"One of the arguments that’s frustrating to hear is some grant makers feel that arts organizations led by people of color don’t have the capacity, they say, to compete for their grants and to me that’s just an excuse," says Dorfman, adding that traditional western European art is being challenged by shifting demographics.

"The audiences for that type of art are upper income and white. In most cases the organizations are led by mostly white folks. Our country is soon going to be majority non-white, and we’ve got to start to be more inclusive about how we go about these things.”

Dorfman says he hopes funders who find their philanthropy out of balance with current demographics will pledge to increase funding to diverse arts programs. “There’s fantastic edgy art being done by all sorts of people in communities, but the grant makers are behind the curve and they need to learn about and figure out how to appreciate and start funding some of those other projects.”

We contacted three local funders, the Meyes and Cafritz foundation, and the Graham fund. All declined comment on the report. The NCRP is challenging private grant makers to devote at least 50 percent of funds for the arts to programs in underserved communities.

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