Thursday, June 3, 2021

Funding Performing Arts

Over the last year and a half or so, one of my big interests has been in how the performing arts have been funded during a period when they can't actually perform. And there have been some creative solutions: a year ago I wrote about federal aid to performing arts as well as a public-private partnership in Illinois. Over the last couple months I discovered (as, I suspect many did) Emmet Cohen and his Live From Emmet's Place series, streamed with support of individuals and a couple nonprofits, including the Center for Performing Arts at Penn and the Lied Center of Kansas. (An aside: Live From Emmet's place is the most wonderful, joyful place to spend a couple hours a week, and this may be the most spectacular musical performance I've ever seen.)

So I was interested in this story from the New York Times talking about the Alphadyne Foundation. In short, a new (and secretive) foundation has provided about $6 million in grants to a number of performing arts organizations in New York so that they can put on performances and pay their performers. (It has also given money to charities trying to alleviate poverty, among other things.)

On its surface, this is (I would argue) a good thing. Like I've said, I've got a real interest in the survival of the performing arts, and I believe that the performing arts have societal benefit. And it's great that charities have become more nimble over the last year and a half.

At the same time, Alphadyne illustrates some of the downsides of an overreliance on charitable money. The foundation's funder and advisors are all tremendously wealthy people and their interests are probably not representative of the interests of the general public. The foundation is almost entirely opaque. Alphadyne has said that it has given $6 million to performing arts organizations but is otherwise entirely opaque. It won't say how much money the foundation has, it has no website, hasn't issued any statements, and has no publicly-available criteria for its grants. (The money issue will be resolved once it files its 990s, but the others may not.)

Anyway, it's worth reading the article and keeping an eye on Alphadyne once it starts filing its 990s.

Samuel D. Brunson

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