A fruitful intermission for the arts

While the pandemic hit arts and cultural groups hard, donors stepped up to rescue an industry with a vital role in uplifting society.

Young cast members making their Broadway debuts in "The Music Man" perform outside the Winter Garden Theatre in New York Feb. 8.

During two years of the pandemic, Americans continued to be a generous lot. Despite lockdowns and hardship, total giving to charities went up 8.1% in 2020 and was essentially flat last year after adjusting for inflation. The big surprise was an unexpected jump in contributions to a sector that often delivers transcendent messages for grim circumstances.

Giving to arts and cultural groups was up nearly 22% last year, the largest rise in 35 years, according to the annual Giving USA report. That was far higher than the increase in grants and donations to religious, health, environmental, educational, or animal welfare groups.

One reason for the hefty benevolence may be that the creative industries, which rely largely on in-person attendance, were among the first to close their doors in early 2020 and to furlough staff. For safety, Broadway shuttered its theaters, art studios had to go viral, and poetry readings and music concerts moved to Zoom. The sudden downturn triggered the uptick in philanthropy from individuals, foundations, and corporations. One charity, Creatives Rebuild New York, gave no-strings cash payments to hundreds of artists.

Now, after a two-year intermission, arts groups are reviving in their local areas, ever more appreciative of the public’s support and their role in society. “That type of community connectedness is making the arts relevant and making them a necessary good,” Randy Cohen, vice president of research at Americans for the Arts, told The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Arts and culture often lift thinking to see another reality. As the narrator in Thornton Wilder’s 1938 American drama “Our Town” says, “We all know that something is eternal.” Giving to others is like that, especially when the giving contributes to respite and inspiration.

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