Black Philanthropy and the Arts by Donna Walker-Kuhne

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) named a gallery of contemporary African-American art after Maureen and Roy Roberts, well-known philanthropists in the areas of arts, culture and education.

In the article “Diversity Matters: Theoretical Understanding of and Suggestions for the Current Fundraising Practices of Nonprofit Art Museums.” Dr. Yuha Jung of the University of Kentucky provides a map that has the potential to change how museums do business with communities of color when it comes to fundraising.

Based on extensive research, Dr. Jung outlines how current fundraising practices of the majority of U.S. museums rely heavilyon their traditional patrons, who are usually White and wealthy.  Dr. Jung suggests that the changing demographics of America require that a more inclusive relationship-based fundraising practice be established; one that builds trust with local community members and includes their perspectives on fundraising practices. Her article notes that this can be accomplished through diversifying fundraising leadership; developing a deeper understanding of multicultural giving patterns, and utilizing innovative fundraising methods that are sensitive to cultural differences.

I agree with Dr. Jung’s analysis that the traditional funding base of mostly White patrons negates the change in the nation’s demographics, migration and immigration patterns.  She notes that one third of the American population is composed of people of color, and demographers project that by 2060 that population will double. This change is already reflected in some of America’s urban centers, and population trends show movement towards a society that is continuously becoming multi-ethnic and multi-cultural.

However, despite this growth, Dr. Jung argues, these multicultural communities have not been actively cultivated to participate in mainstream philanthropy. She notes that it’s not because these communities lack the interest in these institutions or the financial resources, but rather they have been ignored by mainstream nonprofits and other fundraising professionals.  Based on my experience as an audience diversification specialist, I believe these audiences don’t participate because they have not been invited to contribute.  Nonetheless, it is hopeful that the increased interest in audience and patron diversity and inclusion by museums and other arts organizations will help foster the initiatives necessary for the development of more diverse fundraising practices.

There are also programmatic issues that impact the interest or desire of communities of color to become patrons of a local museum. Dr. Jung argues that museums have traditionally played a role in social exclusion by promoting dominant values in museum services; by failing to show alternative experiences, or by failing to tell stories of those excluded. Museums and other arts institutions that fail to tell the stories of people of color not only deny access to its services for that group but also exacerbate the exclusion by reinforcing the prejudices and discriminatory practices of the wider society.

Contrary to these practices, my experience has taught me and Dr. Jung’s research reinforces that there are financial resources within communities of color that can be tapped to contribute to specific collections, to the infrastructure, and or to help sustain the future of museums. However, these institutions will have to engage in specific efforts to earn access to these resources. How does that happen?  By recognizing and valuing the significance of and potential contributions that can be made to the museums by people of color. However, these efforts must be consistent, sincere and meaningful. Dr. Jung recommends the following:

  1. Internally practicing inclusion by promoting diverse fundraising personnel and board members;
  2. Acknowledging and understanding different giving patterns in diverse communities, and
  3. Utilizing alternative fundraising methods that reflect diversity in the general publics and fundraising personnel.

Traditional fundraising practices for conventional donors may not be applicable to communities of color because the history of giving are usually different. For example, the history of African-American philanthropy is rich and robust, and has primarily been directed towards civil rights, religious and educational institutions. These are areas that have been part of the post-slavery cultural traditions and were perceived to be the keys to African-American advancement in society. Historically, the development of non-profit arts and culture organizations in America have excluded the interests of communities of color and, consequently, have been the last to receive their hard-earned dollars. That’s why it’s essential to diversify fundraising personnel, employing people able to provide a bridge of cultural understanding that factors in nuances and differences in how communities of color are approached, who is asked and how.

In preparation for writing her article, Dr. Jung referenced the Wallace Foundation’s Effective Practices for Successful Audience Engagement. The Wallace Foundation states that arts organizations face a changing and challenging landscape. Americans have more options than ever in ways to spend their leisure time, and younger generations have less exposure to the arts in school than previous generations.  Her paper addresses several important practices offered by Wallace:

Recognizing when change is needed – she artfully argues because of the changing demographics, drop in white funding and need for inclusion, its time for change.

Determining what kinds of barriers need to be removed – by removing bias, traditional methods of fundraising that are not applicable to the culture of people of color.

Providing multiple ways in – She lists several strategies that enable museum staff to think about how to engage diverse audiences and generate interest internally and externally.  By creating value within the communities we wish to engage, we can increase participation on a long term basis.

Aligning the Organization Around the Strategy – In order to generate a robust and meaningful action plan, the staff must understand why diversity and inclusion are a priority and that with the changing demographics of our country and the economic disparity, it is vital that museums prepare themselves to expand fundraising sources.

What is hopeful, Dr. Jung notes, is that the increased interest in diversity and inclusion in museums and other arts organizations will become the driving force behind the initiatives that ultimately could and should lead to the creation of more diverse fundraising practices.  This is the time to factor in the potential future impact of diverse populations, including people who have not traditionally valued museums. This is the time to cultivate diverse potential donors and fundraising professionals in order to preserve our nation’s art and cultural heritage.