Introduction: Arts & Culture

Despite its comparatively short history, the United States has become one of the most artistically and culturally rich societies in the world. It is largely private philanthropy that has done this. And unlike in some other nations, it continues to be philanthropy and audience support (rather than state funding) that creates and sustains most artistic activity today. 

Consider symphony orchestras. Fully half of their income currently comes from donations (33 percent from annual gifts, 16 percent from revenue off of endowments given previously). Paid concert revenue comes to 42 percent of their total income. Only 6 percent of symphony funds come from local, state, or federal governments. 

The story is about the same for other creative fields. Nonprofit arts institutions in the U.S. as a whole currently get 45 percent of their budgets from donors. Eliminate philanthropy and our lives immediately become duller, flatter, darker, more silent. 

Arrayed by year below you will find examples of some of philanthropy’s significant contributions to our national artistic life, museums, musical performance and creation, architecture, historical preservation, arts education, the book arts and libraries, living history, poetry, TV and film, dance and theater, and more. 

— Section research provided by Karl Zinsmeister, Brian Brown, and Jarom McDonald