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Private funding for the performing arts

Updated March 23, 2017

The performing arts make up one of the largest categories of recipients of funding from private foundations. Every year, foundations large and small give millions in grants to symphony orchestras, theatre companies, dance troupes, festivals and other performing arts organisations.

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According to data from the Foundation Center for 2006, the most recent year for which data were available, private foundations gave £1.5 billion in grants for arts and culture activities, accounting for 12.2 per cent of all private foundation giving. The performing arts accounted for more than £520 million, or nearly 6 per cent, of all private grants (see Resources).


Some of the largest foundations provide funding for many types of activities besides the arts, while others concentrate exclusively on the arts and humanities, or even narrow their focus to the performing arts.


Private funding for the performing arts keeps many arts organisations in existence. A report by the National Endowment for the Arts indicated that box office revenues account for only 44 per cent of arts organisations' incomes. The rest comes from donations, mostly from private funding sources.


The Foundation Center reports that the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation were the three largest sources of foundation dollars for the performing arts. The three organisations gave more than 150 grants worth a combined total of nearly £84 million for 2006 (see Resources).


In Europe, governments have a much larger role in supporting the performing arts than in the United States. Although government support of the arts has received much media attention in the past, private funding for the performing arts dwarfs federal and state funding.

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About the Author

Shane Hall

Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.

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