Fidelity Charitable Expert Series: How donors can support the arts now

Woman and children painting crafts

2020 has been no easy road to travel for any of us. Between the immediate needs of the COVID-19 crisis and the overdue focus on racial justice and inequity, it can be challenging to know how to help. Donors are asking:  How can they be creative about deploying charitable capital at the intersection of the issue areas they care most about and the arts?

Arts nonprofits were among the first to shut down in the COVID-19 crisis and aren’t expected to re-open for some time, putting an enormous strain on the creative economy that relies on audiences attending arts events. Americans for the Arts estimates that nationally, financial losses to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations are an estimated $13.1 billion as of September 14, 2020. Arts nonprofits also lost 355 million admissions due to canceled events, resulting in an $11.2 billion loss in event-related spending by audiences at local businesses like restaurants and retail.1

In turn, this has a negative impact on the nation’s economy as a whole. In a 2017 report published by Americans for the Arts performing and visual arts organizations, including festivals, public art programs and municipally-owned museums, pumped an estimated $63.8 billion into the national economy. This leveraged an additional $102.5 billion in event-related spending by arts audiences.2

The effects of an arts shutdown go well beyond economics.

Smaller arts organizations that act as lifelines for a community, in areas such as educational support for youth or mental health interventions families and elders, have been displaced or closed. Similarly, large arts and cultural institutions cannot offer their services during this crisis, eliminating a crucial building-block of community connection and support. Jason Holland, vice president of community engagement for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, points out that the elimination of these arts programs highlights how desperately communities truly need them.

“We remain limited in our thinking around arts organizations as only buildings,” Holland said. “This is the moment that arts organizations must focus deeply on the needs of under-resourced communities and communities of color who, right now, need more support than ever.”

I often recommend that donors seek arts organizations that align with the values already reflected in their philanthropy. Through the arts donors can support improved health outcomes for elders, affordable housing and community development, disability rights, cultural equity, trauma-informed interventions for youth in the juvenile justice system, criminal justice reform – the list goes on and on!

By funneling community engagement and addressing social issues through the arts, the outcomes can be deep and lasting. For example, conversations about racial injustice might be scary, painful or easy to avoid, but a photograph, play, song or poem can offer a safe place for expression and hearing– and maybe even a bridge to those tough conversations.  

How do you decide where to give?

Seek arts organizations that align with the values already reflected in your philanthropy.

The arts intersect with virtually every issue area in philanthropy from education and youth development, to support for youths with autism, mental health interventions, women and girls, cultural preservation, economic development and everything in between. The arts are part of a holistic funding approach. Through the arts, donors can address root-cause issues, advocate for change or offer direct support.

Donors giving with an equity lens should consider prioritizing support for arts organizations led by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and Queer leaders.

There is a disproportionate lack of arts organizations with non-white leaders. Donors may wish to prioritize funding to African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American (ALAANA) and LGBTQIA+-led arts organizations in support of giving a voice to marginalized populations, and in speaking and hearing the languages we can all understand as humans, such as music, dance, and performance art.

Consider unrestricted funding.

Unrestricted funding allows nonprofits to keep the lights on during this crisis and beyond. Let the organizations you trust utilize your funding to support their greatest need as they pivot, even if that means paying salaries or rent.

As we look forward to a post-COVID life, our global community is facing astronomical challenges. In these times, donors can provide support for the arts consistent with their values and at a critical time for the sector.

Tobi Becerra

Tobi Becerra

Director, Philanthropic Strategies
Private Donor Group

In her role as a philanthropic strategist for the Private Donor Group, Tobi Becerra is responsible for providing guidance, insight and solutions to help some of the most generous Fidelity Charitable donors meet their philanthropic goals.

Tobi began her career in nonprofit arts administration — writing, editing, and implementing aesthetic education curriculums for Title 1 schools that would otherwise not have arts programs. Her experience allows her to understand the needs and capabilities of nonprofits and to offer guidance to donors about the best ways to amplify the effect of their giving on the organizations they care about.

Tobi has an undergraduate degree from Chapman University, where she studied dance and theatre. Her graduate degree is from Louisiana State University in nonprofit administration.  A native of the Bay Area, Tobi now resides in Denver with her family, where she finds herself distracted daily by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.


In compiling this information, Fidelity Charitable has relied on publicly available information, including websites of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and research centers, as well as experts in the arts. Fidelity Charitable is not responsible for the accuracy of such information or the ability of any organization to achieve specific goals. In this report, Fidelity Charitable provides research that donors may use to inform their philanthropy. Fidelity Charitable makes no recommendation or endorsement, however, with respect to any particular organization.



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