Milwaukee-Area Arts and Culture Groups Face Funding Challenges

The lingering effects of the Great Recession as well as underfunded endowments pose a substantial threat to the sustainability of many arts and cultural organizations in the Greater Milwaukee area, a report from the finds.

The report, (33 pages, PDF), examined trends in foundation funding for the arts sector in the four-county area and found that between 2007 and 2009 grant dollars fell by nearly 50 percent and, unlike funding for other sectors, had not rebounded as of 2011. The report also found that 61 percent of all arts and culture grants were awarded by just five foundations, two of which have since reduced their arts grantmaking. "Our analysis shows that regular foundation grantmaking to the arts and culture sector dropped from about $8.5 million in 2007 to $4.2 million in 2011," said Anne Chapman, the report's lead author.

Based on interviews with foundation and nonprofit officials, the study found that stakeholders in the region's arts community are concerned that relatively few organizations boast endowments large enough to carry them through fluctuations in both contributed and earned revenue. Many also believe that individual giving offers the greatest opportunity for contributed revenue growth, either because there is untapped potential among individual donors or because the outlook for corporate and foundation giving is bleak; and that leaders who can articulate  projects that are visionary as well as business plans that are realistic are key to an organization securing support. Funded by the and the , the report also notes that some interviewees believe there are more arts and culture groups than the community can sustain and that available resources should be focused on large institutions, while others favor a more balanced ecosystem of large and small organizations able to provide a variety of offerings that serve diverse audiences.

"Some of those larger institutions have the sense that philanthropic dollars are abundant, and they feel like they can make the case to attract donors when they need them," Chapman told the . "Some of the smaller organizations feel some scarcity and...[that] large capital campaigns pinch their ability to raise money."

"." Public Policy Forum Press Release 08/14/2015. Marion Renault. "." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 08/13/2015.