In Inside Philanthropy’s weekly briefings, we provide an overview of what’s happening in a particular area of philanthropy, loaded with links to our past coverage and State of American Philanthropy research. This week: music.

In a sentence

Music gets more support from philanthropy than other performing arts, but funding amounts vary greatly, with opera companies and orchestras receiving the lion’s share.

What’s going on

The bulk of private giving for music flows to opera companies and orchestras that have deep relationships with foundations and major donors, as we reported in our white paper on music funding for the State of American Philanthropy. These organizations were well-positioned to withstand the pandemic, while small and mid-sized organizations faced greater threats to sustainability. Music education, meanwhile, is perpetually underfunded.

When it comes to opera and classical music, donors give to preserve the forms for future generations, often believing these forms—and the organizations that sustain them—wouldn’t survive if left adrift in the commercial marketplace. Indeed, with audiences dwindling, most American orchestras and opera companies are not covering their expenses with ticket sales, and philanthropy fills the gaps.

But given these organizations’ traditionally Eurocentric programming and the fact that American orchestras are still overwhelmingly white, classical music groups have some work to do to address long-standing inequities, and funders can play a role in advancing change.

Meanwhile, donors are also giving, albeit at a smaller scale, to organizations focused on jazz, folk, and other types of music, as well as music education.

By the numbers

  • Sixty percent of foundation and donor-advised fund (DAF) grant support for music from 2014 to 2018 went to opera companies and orchestras, according to Candid data.
  • Only 4% of foundation funding for the arts goes to groups whose primary mission is to serve communities of color, says a 2017 study by the Helicon Collaborative.

Key funders

Individual donors play an outsized role across this sector, where single gifts can eclipse foundation support. An anonymous $55 million DAF grant to the Philadelphia Orchestra, for example, exceeded total music-related grantmaking from 2014 to 2018 of all but one private foundation (Andrew W. Mellon).

DAF giving represents a substantial portion of grantmaking for music. Among the top 15 institutional grantmakers for music from 2014 to 2018, seven were financial services firms or community foundations that host DAFs.

Notable major donors include legendary musician Herb Alpert and Daniel Lewis, who supports music education.

Top foundation funders of music include the Mellon, Crawford Taylor and Avenir foundations and the Lilly Endowment. Each style of music has its own leading funders, including jazz (the Doris Duke Charitable, Knight and Ford foundations, plus the Jazz Foundation of America), choral music (Chorus America, McKnight Foundation, Young Singers Foundation) and folk (Folk Alliance International, Joyce Foundation). Top supporters of music education include the Grammy Foundation, NAMM Foundation, and Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.

New and notable 

  • Funders are supporting DEI initiatives. The League of American Orchestras’ Catalyst Fund makes grants to U.S. orchestras to “strengthen understanding of equity, diversity and inclusion and transform organizational culture.” Last year, the Wallace Foundation announced a $53 million initiative focused on arts organizations of color.
  • A focus on DEI may be increasing, but it isn’t new. The Sphinx Organization was founded in 1997 to boost participation of people of color in classical music. Sphinx has received support from the Andrew W. Mellon, Knight and Fund II foundations, among others.
  • Musicians have been hit hard by the pandemic, and some funders stepped up. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation allocated millions to support performing artists during the pandemic, often redistributing support through pooled funds and regrantors such as Artist Relief and the Jazz Road Quick Assist Fund.
  • While many organizations struggled during the pandemic, L.A.’s Music Center received its largest-ever programming gift, $25 million from A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss and his wife, Tina.

Food for thought

“We support unrestricted giving because it jumpstarts creativity by better supporting artists.” —Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, here.

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