Think Philanthropically

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Since March 2020 hundreds of carefully planned artistic exhibits and cultural events have been cancelled.  Museums closed for extended periods. While some selected artistic performances can be streamed, live theatre ceased to exist in North America. According to the American Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts, after adjusting for inflation, revenue in the arts and culture sector fell by nearly 73 percent from 2019 to 2020. While most of the recent available data comes from south of the border, there is little reason to believe that Canada’s arts and culture sector has fared any better. In fact, it is generally acknowledged that this sector was hit harder in the pandemic than most. Unlike the travel and hospitality sector, the rebound has been less robust.  Clearly, it is easier to ramp up tourism and travel related activities – even with severe labour shortages.

“It is generally acknowledged that the Arts and Culture sector
was hit harder in the pandemic than most.”

Our local arts and culture scene in Montreal can’t thrive without an audience. Additionally, theatre, dance, visual arts and festivals all require donors and patrons.  Montrealers can visit more than 40 museums and enjoy world class cultural events. English language theatre options include places like the Segal Centre, the Centaur or those promoted by companies like Geordie Productions. There are also a multitude of smaller alternatives that offer variety and promote artistic creativity.

Quebec government funding programs for the arts was relatively generous during the height of the pandemic crisis however, as we move towards a more normal environment, we can anticipate that such largesse will be greatly restrained as budgetary pressures loom. If we head into a recession in 2023 governments will be more inclined to respond to pressing economic concerns and may be forced to curtail programs that provide critical support to arts and culture.

The philanthropic sector in this city, like most cities, is dominated by the foundations of research hospitals and educational institutions. Organizations that serve the vulnerable and disadvantaged also have a profile in the public consciousness as a function of the social challenges they aim to resolve.  However, other parts of the community-oriented non-profit landscape are often overlooked, particularly when we are led to assume that their operating costs are covered by ticket prices or entrance fees. The reality is that ticket prices cannot provide 100% of the funding for the infrastructure required to present world-class exhibitions, events or performances.

“I would encourage readers of this column to buy a museum membership
or subscribe to provide monthly support to one organization in the arts and culture sector.”

The Quebec government recently announced $225 million to help revitalize the arts scene, including funding for newer digital options or immersive and experiential art. This announcement, along with similar moves by the Canada Council for the Arts will likely serve as an important catalyst. However, it will take more than some well targeted grants to re-energize this sector. This is where philanthropy needs to play a role. I would encourage everyone who reads this column to buy a museum membership or subscribe to provide monthly support to one organization in the arts and culture sector. If you contemplate a more substantial gift, we always suggest that donors inform themselves so that they can act carefully and strategically. The best donors are informed donors and sustained partnerships are more impactful than a single gift.  Culture and art are essential elements in our society and, as Picasso suggested, they serve to elevate our human experience.  So we should support them enthusiastically.

Sam Watts serves as the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission  He serves on several non-profit boards and the National Housing Council of Canada. He is the author of Good Work…Done Better

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