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The majority of U.S. arts funding goes to shrinking, mostly white audiences

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Here's hoping the newest target of the wave of populist outrage sweeping the country will be Terry Gross: a recent report from a watchdog group showed that billions of dollars in arts funding are serving a primarily wealthy, white audience.

The report, from the Washington-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, suggests that foundation giving has fallen out of touch with America's rapidly diversifying demographics. 

Basically, a large chunk of funding is still going to long-standing and, ahem, paler institutions, like symphonies, major museums, and operas. However, surveys continue to show that attendance is dropping at such institutions, and that more and more people are interested in smaller, more community-based arts groups.

"We've got the vast majority of resources going to a very small number of institutions," said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. "That's not healthy for the arts in America."

The study points out that the largest arts organizations (Those with budgets in excess of $5 million) represent just two percent of the nonprofit arts and culture sector, but that those groups received fifty-five percent of foundation funding for the arts in 2009.

Regardless of the issue of scale, those larger institutions typically cater to a more Western, Euro-centric view of art (though yes, they do throw the odd bone to ethnicity with an "indigenous peoples" exhibit or two), and in an era of rapidly expanding globalism, our funding should reflect the growing field of art that we're exposed to.

I love to argue for the preservation of archaic cultural institutions (perhaps best evidenced by my use of the phrases "whippersnapper," "wooden kimono," and "get off my lawn, hippie"), but at a certain point, if arts funding in America is no longer representative of America as it currently stands, and instead points to some kind of distant, idealized past (Honestly, when was the last time you sat and listened to a symphony? All the way through. And not as background music.), then we have to re-examine those policies.

Now, that's not a call for the wholesale dismantling of the current funding systems, but a focus on smaller scale, more community-based arts institutions can't be a bad thing, can it?