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Cultural Economy: Arts Organizations, Museums, and Cultural Institutions are Reeling

March 2, 2009

No surprise here, but the arts and culture sector has been particularly decimated in recent months.

The downturn walloping the entire economy has hit non-profit arts organizations especially hard. With millions of people scrambling to pay for food and other basics, a night at the opera can seem frivolous. So museums, symphonies, theaters, ballet companies and opera companies have cut staff, canceled performances, shortened seasons and, in some cases, shut down.

The worst may be yet to come.

Disturbing details continue here.  Whether these institutions belong among the beneficiaries of federal stimulus largesse is an open question (though the $50 million set aside for the National Endowment for the Arts seems sub-trivial in these “trillion here, trillion there” times).

Regardless of one’s position on the stimulus spending, everyone could agree that we should at least encourage private donations to museums, dance companies, historic sites, etc. in these dark times. But the Obama administration’s new budget calls for scaling back tax deductions for charitable giving. Billions in annual donations may be at risk.

In addition to our commercial entertainment industry, cultural expression in America has thrived because of our decentralized system based on the voluntary support of foundations and individuals.  Philanthropic donations to non-profit arts and education programs have been the lifeblood of our vibrant cultural scene, especially for those art forms that don’t enjoy mass appeal.

A measure that would have a negligible effect on the federal budget might have a catastrophic effect on the non-profit world.

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