Mobil philanthropy: less art, more heart

Mobil Corporation, long a patron of the arts, has decided to shift the emphasis of its corporate philanthropy toward the kinds of social, or human, services now being sliced in Washington.

To some observers, this move heralds a major shift in corporate giving.

This ''reallocation,'' as Mobil calls it, will eventually have wide ramifications for the cultural and artistic worlds which Mobil and the Mobil Foundation Inc. annually support.

Peter Krist, a senior vice-president at Mobil, says the big oil company has yet to decide how to reorganize its foundation's programs. The foundation now gives 15 percent of its funds to art and cultural organizations; 25 percent to civic, health, and community services; and 53 percent to education. The rest of its funds are kept in reserve for deserving projects that come up during the year.

In the future, however, it is expected that a much larger percentage of foundation money will go toward civic and community groups. A Mobil Corporation spokesman says he expects that by 1984 there will be a significant shift as many of its cultural, artistic, and other commitments wind down.

Although the Mobil Foundation has yet to put together its budget for 1983, the company indicated it did not expect any cuts ''in the major programs it supports.'' The support includes gifts to such organizations as the Japan Society ($100,000), the Museum of Modern Art in New York ($100,000), and the New York City Opera ($25,000).

The Mobil spokesman also said the company had no intention of cutting back on its sponsorship of ''Masterpiece Theater'' on public TV, which is funded by the corporation, not by the foundation. But Mr. Krist said in an interview that Mobil had made a policy decision to shift the direction of its corporate philanthropy, which will come to about $28 million this year. The foundation contributes about 50 percent of Mobil's gifts.

So far, the first beneficiary of this shift is New York City. In a ceremony on the steps of City Hall, Mobil announced its foundation will contribute $480, 000 for hiring 628 young people and 60 college-age supervisors to spend seven weeks cleaning up subway stations. Only two weeks earlier, Mobil had announced a grant of $365,000 to sponsor the ''Big Apple Games,'' a summer recreational program for 50,000 New York schoolchildren.

City officials were delighted, calling Mobil's grant ''philanthropy at its best.''

Mr. Krist indicated that in the next several weeks Mobil would announce several similar grants for other cities. He said the shift to sponsoring such human-service projects has come about because ''we concluded it had a higher priority.''

There is some question whether the shift toward human services and away from other areas is part of a trend among corporations. Katherine Troy, a senior research associate at the Conference Board, says that in a survey in September the board found that, of those companies that planned to reallocate funds in 1982, the first area to benefit would be human services. In later conversations with corporate officials, she says, the shift has become more apparent.

George Simpson, a public affairs official involved with Newsweek magazine's philanthropic effort, says he, too, has seen this shift.

''In my conversations with leaders in corporate philanthropy, the question comes up, how can business make a greater contribution to the safety net,'' he says. But he points out that even a doubling of business giving, which ran at $3 billion last year, would not begin to equal the budget cuts made by the Reagan administration.

''A lot of people think the business community has the capability to make up what has been cut,'' he says, ''but that's just not the case.''

Dan Fallon, director of communications at the Business Committee for the Arts , says surveys taken by his organization indicate support for the arts will be up this year. But even if that support were not to materialize, he comments, ''it would not be a terrible shock.'' He views the shift at Mobil as something separate, not part of a trend.

And in Washington, Adrian King, a spokesman for the National Endowment for the Arts, says he is hopeful that Mobil's decision ''is not any kind of a trend.'' He says the endowment plans to increase its advocacy role this year, urging business to increase its giving to the arts during a time when federal support is waning.

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