Arts funding disparities show philanthropists’ priorities

A $30 million gift to the Metropolitan Opera – the Harlem School of the Arts closes for lack of 1/60th that amount. Pretty clear what big private funders value, and it’s not the American vernacular or immediately next generation of artists. There’s hardly anything jazzy about this post.

ann ziff.jpegAnn Ziff’s gift of $30 million to the Met was announced in late March, and general manager Peter Gelb was grateful, telling the New York Times: 

“The Met is sorely in need of cash . . .We really need it, and we need a lot more than that. . . it’s not enough to save us, [but] it’s a very timely and important gift.” 

The Met has annual operating expenses of $300 million, and projects a $4 million deficit for 2010. Ms. Ziff, widow of William B. Ziff Jr., who the Times reports “assumed control of Ziff Davis Inc following the death of his father, the company’s co-founder” in 1953, and who himself died in 2006 — the year before his three sons made the Forbes 400 list as have net worth of approximately $3.5 billion — is a vice chairwoman of Lincoln Center and sits on the Carnegie Hall board. According to the Times, “Met productions typcally cost $2 million to $4 million each.” $30 million will cover, say, seven to 15 operas. But it’s only the start of the Met’s new $300 million fundraising drive —  launched March 3 by African-American Met star Angela Brown, singing to 2400 Buffalo public school students in an effort to introduce them to opera and classical music. The Met has just completed its previous $170 million fundraising drive. Good luck, Met.
In comparison, the Harlem School of the Arts is currently closed, awaiting its board’s decision on whether to close for good. Founded in a church basement in 1964 by famed African-America concert singer Dorothy Maynor

Dorothy Maynor.jpeg

the HSA has taught dance, music, theater and visual arts to 3,000 students annually. Its 2009-2010 budget was $3.6 million, cut $800,000 from 2008-2009, according to the New York Daily News. Its 28-week beginners classes cost $610, but many students received scholarships. $30 million, the equivalent of 49,180 class tuitions, would cover somewhat less than 10 years of the Harlem School of the Arts’ overall budget and serve countless thousands of students, their families and community.

HSA board chairman Christopher Paci is reported to have said, 

As the economy turned and a number of our institutional donors cut back on their giving, our revenue from fund-raising shrank dramatically as our expenses remained the same.  

No doubt the Metropolitan Opera had the same problem, as has every other cultural institution in America.  That was only part of the trouble that led to the closing in December 2009 of another New York City arts establishment, the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem, because its difficulties began with a 14-year-old student’s charge of sexual abuse by a choir counselor, which led to a law suit, the Choir losing its home and, oh yes, increased difficulty raising funds to pay off payroll taxes and penalties. An alumni choir survives, but isn’t training new students. 

Further information on what arts philanthropists spend in order to take places on the boards of cultural institutions is available in this NYT article, headlined “Trustees Find Board Seats Are Still Luxury Items.” But luxury items are still in style. Ms. Ziff will be the next chairwoman of the Metropolitan Opera. 
Obviously she has a passion for the Met, and everyone should be free to give their money wherever they want (though I reserve the right to despise people who leave fortunes to their pets). But doesn’t the Ziff case represent the giving gap between funding for the presentation of classical, mostl
y European artistry in America, and current, forward-looking training for Americans with limited arts education opportunities?
What if kids in Harlem still want to study music, dance, theater, visual art? When a neighborhood loses two independent educational arts institutions, does the likelihood of art coming from that neighborhood diminish? Does the quality of that neighborhood’s art, or life, suffer? Does the content of art that does emerge from the neighborhood change? Surely there are other, well-funded and well-run places those Harlem kids can go. Right? Painter Leroy Neiman donated $1 million in 2008 to open the Arts Horizon Leroy Neiman Arts Center — which was very nice of him. The Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts continues to teach music, dance and theater in East Harlem.
Maybe this seems like a non sequitor, but The Jazz Foundation of America has scheduled its annual “Great Night in Harlem” fundraiser for May 20, at the Apollo Theater. Tickets range from $55 to $1500. This supports the JFA’s Musicians Emergency Fund, which takes care of jazz and blues players mostly in their later lives, Who will fund schooling of Harlem’s jazz and blues musicians, or even its classical musicians, visual artists, dancers and actors of the future?
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  1. TSJ says

    Howard, if those kids in Harlem want to learn about the arts, their best bet is to move to Manhattan and turn white. Otherwise none of the remaining “philanthropists” will toss them a dime…
    HM: Todd, you’re so cynical. Harlem IS in Manhattan. And white Manhattan has moved into Harlem big time in the past decade. But yeah, about those dimes. . .

  2. says

    Howard, I think it’s clear that your questions should be reformed as statments. Art DOES need to be encouraged, and at the very least–from learning to play an instrument to learning to put together sentences–it needs to be taught.
    For philanthropists, donating to charity is a way of sustaining a social life (and getting to go to the right parties). Then again, if that’s the case, maybe it’s just a matter of showing them they can have just as good a time with the Harlem kids as at a Met opening.
    HM: Good points, Gordon, but you mean you don’t believe Ann Ziff adores opera? $30 mil is a lot to invest in a social life. Poor rich people — to feel they need to spend so much cash to have some fun.

  3. Tom says

    Howard – Looks like HSA needs someone who knows fund raising. Maybe rally successful jazz musicians and/or alumni for a benefit concert or get some radio & TV publicity and more press and web exposure (to add to your and the NYT contributions). The few videos on youtube ain’t enough. There must be jazz aficionados among the wealthy!
    HM: Tom, in the articles I linked to I believe the HSA board is quoted as saying they’ve done fundraising and they were still hard at it, without much success. When I do a blog posting like this, I hope I’m raising awareness and exposure of the problem, and other media will pick it up (post my post on your Facebook page! Tweet this blog post!). Sure, there are jazz aficionados among the wealthy — and they kick in bucks to the Jazz Foundation of America, Jazz at Lincoln Center, some of them even to the Jazz Journalists Association (our fundraiser, the annual Jazz Awards, taking place for the 14th time this June — see
    Also: I’ve heard a rumor of another institution stepping in to help HSA, so maybe it’s not too late for them. We’ll see.

  4. Oliver says

    Same problem in the UK, though here it is geared to what the government gives via the Arts Council. A few years ago, there was a campaign called Jazz on a Shoestring here, which explained that jazz received funding of a few pence per audience compared with pounds for opera, from the Arts Council over here. This continues through today – in 20 years, the Vortex has received just £30,000 of funding for a venue that puts on 300+ concerts a year. It is going to be even harder after the general election.
    Meanwhile we are not geared at all to large donations. We are happy enough to receive the small offerings every day from our loyal audience.
    I doubt if savings by any new government will be channelled to support jazz! And even if opera and other art forms may bleat too, a judicious invitation to the new Prime Minister to sit in the Royal Box at Covent Garden will probably be accepted. Can we get him to come to Dalston? It would be nice to think so, but I am not optimistic.

  5. Andrea Wolper says

    This is nothing new, but it’s probably getting worse, and it’s right in line with Mayor Bloomberg’s empty talk about the importance of the arts. In his world (and too often in the world of big-money philanthropy–though with some exceptions), support for “The Arts” means throwing money at the lofty institutions, never looking around to see what’s happening “on the ground,” never thinking about arts education or about actual artists.

  6. says

    Hi Howard: Thank you for including mention of Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts located on 104th and Fifth Avenue. While not as old as HSA, or as large nor have we ever had a surplus, we are now celebrating our 40th anniversary this year. Perhaps our longevity is due to the fact that we are part of a larger 73 year old nonprofit, Boys & Girls Harbor. In this climate sound fiscal management and a committed board of directors is essential in order to survive. At the Harbor Conservatory we know what it means to “tighten our belts.”
    As the director of development for the Conservatory, this IS the worst economic climate for arts eduction (not arts in education-using the arts to teach other subject areas)but, real arts training to develop the next generation of musicians, dancers and actors.
    Unlike HSA, we are determined not to raise our fees, and are seeking support from every source possible, Govt, Foundation, Corporation and Individual donors.
    Supporting the Metropolitan Opera is great, but without support for community based nonprofit schools of the arts, there won’t be many future artists to place on the great stages. Thanks. Nina Olson, Director of External Affairs, Harbor Conservtory for the Performing Arts, a division of Boys & Girls Harbor.

  7. Mike says

    You hit the nail on the head. Except the reference to Angela Brown was in the wrong context. The new fundraising drive she kicked off on March 3 was in Buffalo, NY and was for The Cultures of Giving Legacy Initiative, sponsored by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, to encourage philanthropists of color to build an endowment to change the lives of youths living in low-income communities of color. This particular event had little to do with the Met and was seemingly more aligned with helping institutions who don’t share the power of the Met, like an inner city school for the arts or other similar program.
    HM: I stand corrected, here’s a link to the Buffalo event Angela Brown starred in: