Esquire magazine began giving annual Business in the Arts awards in 1966. A year later, David Rockefeller launched a national task force of CEOs dedicated to increasing arts philanthropy. In 1968, the two programs were combined into one project to recognize firms making significant contributions to the American arts.
Rockefeller believed that modern corporations had a major role to play in patronizing culture, filling the place that rich individuals occupied in Renaissance Europe. He hoped that the awards would play a role in encouraging corporations to step up. One of the earliest winners, the department store Abraham and Strauss, was honored in 1968 for funding revitalization of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In later years, IBM, Polaroid, and other companies were celebrated for sponsoring museums, performances, telecasts of art events, and more.
In 2008, the Business Committee for the Arts merged operations with Americans for the Arts to form the largest-ever private-sector advocacy organization for the arts. By that time, the business community’s art philanthropy had grown from an estimated $22 million in 1967 to over $3 billion in 2006.
- Marjorie Garber, Patronizing the Arts (Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 98
- “Americans for the Arts and Business Committee for the Arts Merge Operations,” americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/pdf/news/press-releases/2008/10/AFTA-and-Business-Committee-for-the-Arts-Merge-Operations.pdf