A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Funding the Arts Is Funding for Social Change

In a recent conversation, I found myself wrestling with a familiar question: How do we encourage funding for the arts during times of crisis, as people are struggling to meet basic needs like food, shelter, and physical and mental health?

It’s a valid consideration. Just before the coronavirus hit, I questioned myself and my own privilege as our foundation hosted a small dinner to commemorate our 2019 artist fellowship cohort in Downtown Los Angeles. We were five stories above the Greyhound bus station, where homeless people sought refuge.

As I listened to the personal stories of the artists around our table, I developed a renewed dedication for supporting them. It was clear that their work had literally been a lifeline for so many people in times of trauma, injustice and disappointment.

Artists’ contributions are often the first ones overlooked and their jobs are quickly minimized in times of crisis. And yet it’s exactly in times like these that we can begin to experience art less as a luxury or accessory, and more as an essential piece of how we move through events like a global pandemic and the reconstruction of systems for equity and justice.

Right now, our humanity is in a perpetual state of vulnerability, uncertainty and anxiety. It’s the artists who are rising to the occasion to inspire us and provide new ways of finding hope. It’s what they do. They show us what’s possible.

In the face of adversity, artists continue to be some of the most resilient and adaptable people I know. Artists provide novel approaches for problem solving, creating empathy, activating networks, and innovating under pressure—all core skills that any CEO, politician, health expert, small business owner, or entry level employee relies on to create systemic social change or major shifts in culture.

Lucky for us, artists are prepared for times like this. They are a vital component for restoring and strengthening our communities beyond the next global tragedy.

These essential, creative humanitarians are in the trenches, and it’s crucial that we as a philanthropic community help them stay vital and engaged.

So yes, we need food pantries. We need organizations that bring clean water to villages so people can wash their hands.

And, we need the graphic designers who create labels for canned goods, and the crafty ones who can make masks out of recycled materials. We need the musicians, filmmakers, photographers, painters, and writers to teach our children, communicate calls to action, bring salve to our souls, and remind us of our full potential when we are scared, weary and lonely.

I encourage us to think on how we can contribute to artist relief funds, commission new work, hire artists for thought leadership, and invite artists into our foundations’ board meetings to inspire and help communicate calls-to-action.

If we discount this opportunity, we will miss a powerful moment in history to inspire hope, and unite the core elements that serve all philanthropic efforts—our connections to ourselves, each other, and the world.


Joey Borgogna is a producer and advisor at the intersection of art, philanthropy, culture, and community, whose work is inspired by humanitarian and cultural expeditions spanning 21 countries on 5 continents. He currently serves as Director of the Speranza Foundation where he manages the the Lincoln City Fellowship, a one-year, non-residential grant program for individual artists.

For more ideas on how foundations can support artists in your community or nationally, contact joey@speranzafoundation.com

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