A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Funding Local Arts

Photo by Ludwig Kwan from Pexels

The Presser Foundation is the only foundation dedicated solely to funding music organizations in the Greater Philadelphia region. Its holistic approach to grantmaking also makes it unique among funders.

The foundation gives to music organizations through special projects, general operating support, and capital support grants. At the same time, it supports music students through undergraduate and graduate awards. And it provides special assistance to retired music teachers with financial need.

Why focus on music specifically?

Theodore Presser was a music educator. He founded the Theodore Presser Publishing Company, which created and published the music magazine, The Etude, among other music manuscripts. Presser loved music and wanted to give back to the field he cherished. The Presser Foundation, created through his will in 1925, has been giving to music organizations ever since.

While times and processes have changed, The Presser Foundation continues to stay focused on its mission to fund music.

Music is not only aesthetically pleasing, making listeners think, feel and act, but it also has physical benefits. Music, and the arts more broadly, connects people and advances valuable, communicative behaviors.

The economic impact of funding local arts

The arts offer more than just aesthetic, physical and community benefits. From a monetary standpoint, the arts and culture sector in Philadelphia alone contributed $4.1 billion in total economic impact in 2017. The sector supports around 55,000 full-time equivalent jobs, and generates $1.3 billion in household income.

Extend that impact across the country, and think about the benefits arts and culture organizations afford thousands of people and communities. According to the Argonne National Laboratory, arts and culture contribute 4.5% of U.S. gross domestic product.

Arts organizations make communities and cities more vibrant and attractive to both longtime residents as well as newcomers. But they’ve taken a major hit during the pandemic. Recent research from the Cultural Alliance suggests that arts and culture organizations in Philadelphia suffered a total economic loss of $2.33 billion. And total budgets are down 26% from FY2019 to FY2021.

Recovery has been sporadic. Earned revenue dramatically decreased from $686 million in 2019 to $316 million in 2021. However, contributed revenue slightly increased from $569 million in 2019 to $619 million in 2021, a promising sign.

The role of philanthropy in the arts

The Presser Foundation believes that philanthropy can and should play a role in the arts. According to Giving USA, giving to the arts, culture and humanities dropped by 7.5% in 2020, even though total giving rose by 5.1%.

The arts represent a critical component to the nonprofit sector and economy overall. While 4% of total contributions go towards the arts, increased giving could manifest in greater physical, aesthetic and economic benefits.

Collaborating for the arts

The foundation also recognizes the importance of working with other funders, and arts and culture organizations. Foundation staff are members of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia’s arts and culture funders group. The foundation hopes these memberships will help strengthen the sector through collaboration and sharing.

The arts play an important role in our lives. Lean funders can strengthen this vital sector, bettering the health and well-being of their communities in a wide variety of ways.


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About the Author

Abby Rolland is the grants and communications manager at The Presser Foundation.

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