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Wintersession Course: Cultural Philanthropy in the Museum Space

January 11–January 15, 2021, hosted virtually | A weeklong course for Harvard students with guest lectures by experts in the philanthropy and museum fields.

Course Leaders: Professor Thomas Cummins and Dr. Yota Batsaki

We are traversing a second Gilded Age where the rise of megafoundations in tandem with growing social inequality offer opportunity for philanthropic giving to exert tremendous influence. In the United States, philanthropy is crucial to several sectors, from education and the arts to the environment, science, and human rights. But philanthropy also impacts public opinion and government policy, ultimately influencing the provision of public goods in a democratic society. Philanthropic literacy is therefore an important component of citizenship.

Over the past two decades, the rise of strategic philanthropy has added to the pressure on cultural organizations to demonstrate their social value; yet the emphasis on metrics and demonstrable impact does not align easily with the long-term horizons of culture and the arts. The ongoing pandemic will likely affect the changing priorities of philanthropic giving while putting additional pressure on the financial resources of cultural organizations, many of which have had to close their doors and reduce programs and staff. Making a case for cultural philanthropy is as urgent a proposition as ever.

This virtual weeklong course introduces students to the history, contemporary influence, and key debates surrounding philanthropy, with a focus on the museum space. While exploring the impact of philanthropic giving on museums, the course also introduces students to future careers and the behind-the-scenes workings of cultural institutions. Students will engage with theoretical and historical approaches and will learn directly for museum leaders and scholars of philanthropy through a program of guest lectures.

Guest lecturers include Patricia Banks, Stanley Katz, Kathleen McCarthy, Amanda Moniz, Kathy Southern, Joan Weinstein, and John Wetenhall.

Both Harvard students at the beginning of their college careers who are interested in exploring new fields, and more advanced students contemplating future careers in the cultural, humanities, and nonprofit sectors, are encouraged to apply. All students will be expected to complete course readings and participate in lectures. Interested candidates should send (1) a résumé and (2) a one-page statement of interest to by November 16, 2020.