Infographic: The Boom in U.S. Nonprofits


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Infographic: The Boom in U.S. Nonprofits

In a blog post, Who Will Be the Next Arts Revolutionary?, Createquity outlines the story of how the nonprofit arts sector got started to offer would-be change makers some clues. Included in the post were two infographics that illustrated growth points in the art nonprofit sector. Read the full blog post here xxx or on Createquity’s blog. (

The two infographics: The Boom in U.S. Nonprofits and Continued Growth of Arts Nonprofits 1995-2015 are further examined and suggested reason for the grown are outlined in the blog post end notes reproduced here:

“Reliable longitudinal data on the size of the nonprofit arts sector is difficult to come by for this period. In his 1984 essay, “The Nonprofit Instrument and the Influence of the Marketplace,” Paul DiMaggio turns to founding dates of nonprofits arts organizations to demonstrate this early boom in the sector. He points out that of the 165 theatres in TGC’s Theatre Profiles IV, 87 percent were founded after 1960. He cites data in an article by Leila Sussman which examines the dance companies listed in a 1979 issue of Dance Annual and finds that 89 percent had been founded in the preceding 10 years. DiMaggio also cites a survey of New York State arts organizations, undertaken by the National Research Center for the Arts in 1975, wherein 54 percent of theatres, 58 percent of musical groups, 91 percent of dance companies, 90 percent of visual arts organizations, and 84 percent of local arts agencies had been founded in the 1960s and 70s (this data is not included in our graphic above). He also cites statistics from “national sample of art museums” that says that more than a third of them did not exists before 1960. Our data on operas and folk arts organizations is taken from other sources. In a 1993 book, James Heilbrun provides statistics on organizations in a number of disciplines. He cites data about “All Opera” companies from Central Opera Service, with 648 operas listed in 1970, and 1285 listed in 1990. Information about folk arts organizations comes from an NEA report published in 1996 about nonprofit folk arts orgs. Of 23 organizations included in the report, 19 had been founded since the 1960s. 1. Throughout the early periods of the American arts ecosystem, numerous individuals and groups had great influence, including:

  • James Smithson and his $500,000 bequest to the United States of America to found the Smithsonian Institution.
  • John Jay, a lawyer who rallied elites to found the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which would grow to have the largest endowment of any American cultural institution.
  • The sociedades mutualistas formed by Mexican Americans starting in the 1870s, in which traditional arts were prominent activities much like the mutual aid societies established by African, Asian, and European Americans.
  • Jane Addams, the first American woman and second woman ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, who launched a social settlement in Chicago where the arts were infused into the pursuit of social reform and wellbeing.
  • Actors Equity Association (AEA), a social club turned labor union, founded “…not [as] a revolutionary body with anarchistic tendencies. / rather, a clearing house for a freer exchange of thought between artist and manager…” (Actors Equity Magazine 1915). •Alain LeRoy Locke, the first African American Rhodes Scholar, who by bringing together artists with publicity and patronage such as that of businessman Julius Rosenwald, is part of a cohort to spearhead the Harlem Renaissance, a movement for black self-determination and cultural affirmation.
  • The creators of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board and Act of 1935 protecting Native American cultural products and heritage.
  • The nation’s first local arts councils such as the Quincy, Illinois Society of Fine Arts and the Winston-Salem Arts Council, a case of the arts utilized by the local Junior League as a distraction from racial issues in the South.

2. Looking at the rate of consumer spending on performing arts experiences (a somewhat problematic proxy for arts engagement, but one of the only ones available for some earlier period) sheds some light on how Americans’ participation rates have changed over time. In their landmark 1966 book Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma, economists Baumol and Bowen point out that even though it was popular in the press at the time to describe a cultural boom, the actual rate of spending on performing arts activities fell 25% between 1929 and 1963 when corrected for population growth, inflation, and economic growth, while spending on other cultural goods like sound recordings and sports grew during that time. A 2001 book by Heilbrun, The Economics of Arts and Culture, takes a similar tactic, looking at consumer spending on the performing arts as a percentage of total disposable income, effectively controlling for rises in the latter. There is evidence that the “cultural boom” that Baumol and Bowen had not found evidence for in the early 60s, was taking place from 1975 and 1990. In that period, the percentage of disposable income spent on the performing arts experienced a turn-around and began to rise. Heilbrun says, “After reaching a low of less than 7 cents per $100 of DPI [Disposable personal income] in the mid-1970s, consumer spending on the performing arts rose to 9.1 cents per $100 in 1980 and 13.4 cents in 1990… between 1975 and 1990 consumer expenditure on the performing arts increased almost exactly twice as fast as DPI.” (21) In fact, it rose even faster than the percentage of spending on motion pictures and sporting events. Heilbrun posits that this is a result of the subsidies made available in the 1950s and 1960s through the nonprofit ecosystem. These funds enabled to the creation (or expansion) of nonprofit arts institutions outside of major cities, where large numbers of arts organizations were not supportable by consumer spending (or even local wealthy patrons) alone. The new participation opportunities these groups offered met “latent demand” in these new geographic areas. Heilbrun does note that rising ticket prices are likely also a part of this overall increase in spending, especially after 1985.

3. Researchers sometimes examine the division between nonprofit and commercial activity in the arts as a way to isolate the effects of nonprofit status. In both 1982 and 1992 the NEA performed such an analysis on performing arts organizations. Within the list of states with higher rates of commercial performing arts activities, it’s easy to recognize the influence of industries which do not depend on reaching local audiences, like the music and film industries in Nashville Los Angeles. Even commercial hubs which do provide person experiences like Las Vegas and New York, are made possibly and marketed toward large numbers of tourists. These numbers demonstrate that the nonprofit infrastructure has been an important factor when it comes to providing live artistic experiences in areas without a large influx of travelers.

4. In his 2006 study “The Intersectoral Division of Labor in the Arts,” Paul DiMaggio looks at the division of nonprofit and commercial arts by discipline, using data from the US Economic Census from 1997. One striking divide is between disciplines that have been historically considered more prestigious like museums and orchestras (almost entirely nonprofit), and disciplines that are more recently recognized for their artistic merits like jazz and ethnic dance (more predominantly commercial). While one could make the argument that jazz and ethnic dance are inherently more commercially viable, it seems more likely that they are in fact, inherently more difficult to find subsidy for within the nonprofit infrastructure. Dimaggio does note that the creation of the NEA and other state and local government funding sources did help to expand the narrowness of the early funding efforts in the 1960s, though the predominance of high culture in the nonprofit sphere remains.

5. The vibrant yet flawed nonprofit arts ecology we have today exists thanks to individuals and groups who have challenged, spread, diversified, and redefined the sector in the last half century. Some of these agents of change include:

  • Claudine Brown, Assistant Secretary for Education and Access for the Smithsonian Institution, former director of the National African American Museum Project and the arts and culture program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and former instructor to many of today’s “managers at art, history, natural history, science and children’s museums throughout the country.”
  • Judith Jamison, who alongside others brought financial stability to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater through increased funding, novel corporate agreements, and a 50th anniversary campaign that grew the endowment to $50 million, carrying forward Ailey’s visionary company which “changed forever the perception of American dance.”
  • The politically motivated, important artists of the Black Arts Movement (1965-1975).
  • John Goberman, creator and executive producer of Live from Lincoln Center. “We have discovered that television, far from undermining live performances, whets the viewer’s appetite for more” (NEA Annual Report 1980).
  • The Apollo, which switched to nonprofit status in 1991. •Karen Finley, Tim Miller, Holly Hughes, and John Fleck aka the “NEA Four” who filed suit when their NEA grants were vetoed in 1990, even after passing peer-review panels. The case caused the NEA to eliminate grants to individual artists in 1994.
  • Asian Women’s Giving Circle, the first and largest giving circle in the nation led by Asian American women, promoting grassroots philanthropy.
  • Claire Lomax Esq., CEO of the Lomax Family Foundation, one of the nation’s leaders in black philanthropy.
  • Franny Armstrong who in 2004 was one of the first artists to use an online donation system for her work, a feature film entitled The Age of Stupid. •Dr. Robert Gumbiner who left the Museum of Latin American Art with a $25 million endowment upon his death in 2009.” [End Notes from blog post Who Will Be the Next Arts Revolutionary? ]

In a blog post, Who Will Be the Next Arts Revolutionary?, Createquity outlines the story of how the nonprofit arts sector got started to offer would-be change makers some clues. Included in the post were two infographics that illustrated growth points in the art nonprofit sector. The two infographics are The Boom in U.S. Nonprofits and Continued Growth of Arts Nonprofits 1995-2015. Read the full blog post here xxx or on Createquity’s blog. (


March 2016

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