Do The Wealthy Have A Duty To Support The Arts?

by Michael Kaiser
Liz Forgan, the former chair of the Arts Council of England, gave an interesting interview to Rupert Christiansen in The Daily Telegraph in which she criticized the wealthy of her country for not supporting the arts. While there are a few families who have been extraordinarily generous, she argues, too many of the newly wealthy are not helping support British arts institutions.

In particular she pointed to the “hedge fund boys” whose great wealth, she believes, should be shared.

She compared them, unfavorably, to Russian oligarchs who have been supporting arts ventures in their homeland (and abroad I might add). She wonders if they are uncultured or simply uncharitable.

I find her comments well-intentioned but a bit naive.

The truth is that people who gain wealth do not automatically become philanthropic in England, the United States or anywhere else.

Arts institutions — and all not for profit organizations for that matter — must make it engaging, fun, enlightening and inspiring to participate. They must earn their donors.

One can only imagine the letters the wealthy of England receive daily asking for funding. The remarkable web of excellent arts institutions in that nation are suffering from reductions in government subsidies as are their peers across the globe.

But what are these supplicants offering back?

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