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Cultural Capital: Philanthropy in the Arts and Humanities Today

Dumbarton Oaks Music Room
May 14  –  15, 2020
Speakers at this daylong colloquium discuss the evolution and impact of philanthropy to arts and humanities organizations

The history of philanthropy is being rewritten as a part of American history, as evidenced by a wave of scholarship on the topic and philanthropy’s recent inclusion in the National Museum of American History. Unprecedented wealth accumulation has spurred extraordinary levels of giving over the past several decades. Yet cultural philanthropy, which specifically supports the arts and humanities, remains a relatively unexplored and undefined phenomenon.

One reason for this relative neglect is that cultural philanthropy does not fit easily into dominant trends of strategic philanthropy. The contribution that the arts and humanities make is difficult to quantify and its impact unfolds over lifetimes, if not generations. At the same time, widening inequality reinforces the expectation that philanthropic acts should create social value. Recently, the vast sums donated by mega-donors for the restoration of the Notre Dame cathedral immediately provoked a backlash and debate about what is most worthy of philanthropic support. Thus, even during a time of record private giving, cultural institutions find themselves defending their existence, relevance, and inclusivity in the search for funding. 

“Cultural Capital: Philanthropy in the Arts and Humanities Today” will explore the definitions, history, and current debates surrounding cultural philanthropy. How has cultural philanthropy evolved and how does it continue to change? How do donors impact society’s engagement with cultural institutions and the organizations themselves? Speakers will address questions of value, inclusivity, and civic participation that have important implications for the future of arts and humanities in the United States.

Organized by Jan Ziolkowski and Yota Batsaki