It used to be kings and potentates who were big patrons of the arts, but in 20th-century America, private companies have found that supporting music and painting is good business.
Judith A. Jedlicka, president of the Business Committee for the Arts Inc., estimated that gifts and other corporate arrangements will amount to more than $1 billion by year’s end. Still, most of the total $9 billion spent annually to support the arts in the United States comes from individual contributions.
The U.S. government, unlike in many other countries, is less generous.
Congress gave the National Endowment for the Arts $98 million to spend in the year ending Sept. 30. Art supporters from the Democratic and Republican parties blocked yet another attempt by the GOP House leadership to kill the NEA, which hands out federal monies to arts groups.
Governments of 56 states and territories together spend about $300 million a year to support local arts projects, while nearly 4,000 local governments have put up as much as $700 million.
Spending by companies reduces earnings, but it saves taxes, helps the corporate image and improves staff morale. Individuals making donations also enjoy tax deductions.
The market itself can’t be relied on to favor genius. Shakespeare ended up a prosperous investor in his native Stratford, England, though command performances for royalty and noble patrons also helped. But Mozart, just as popular in his time, died poor at 36, cadging loans from his friends.
“A lot of artists starved in Italy even when the Medicis supported the arts,” said Joseph J. Krakora of the National Gallery of Art. “They just subsidized a few artists to work for them personally.
“What we have now is partnership of government and business,” he added.
The Medicis ruled Florence for 300 years, supporting Michaelangelo, Raphael and other great artists.
In America, GTE, the big telecommunications company in Stamford, Conn., spends $2 million a year on the arts and publishes an illustrated report to show what it does. GTE gave the Black Dance Theater in Dallas the biggest gift it ever got so its staff can teach children in places like Grapevine, Texas.
Maureen Gorman, vice president of the GTE Foundation, said it also finances seminars at New York’s Carnegie Hall, where performers and composers get together to develop their work.
Businesses help in two main ways, both taxdeductible.
Arts organizations prefer to get direct contributions, so their staff has the greatest freedom on spending, but then businesses don’t receive direct credit for such projects.
Sponsorships and other arrangements may be more important. Texaco for decades has sponsored broadcasts by the Metropolitan Opera.