by John Stoehr
With Wall Street in a shame spiral, "What's coming next?" is a question that has everyone in the arts community taking big, anxious gulps. Lehman may never hand out another charitable dime; the immediate future of the firm's philanthropic foundation, like everything else about it, is now a matter of bankruptcy law. But the fear isn't limited to those groups that were getting money from corporate America's recently deceased and badly wounded. There's agita all around.
For now, it's agita about the future. You don't hear panic from the directors of museums and theaters, nor has anyone started to cut back the number of productions or exhibitions they're planning. Economic jolts take a few months, or longer, to reach budgets and schedules in Planet Arts, and gifts from corporations make up one of the smaller slabs in the pie chart of annual giving in this realm. The National Endowment for the Arts reported that corporations accounted for only 3 percent of contributed income for nonprofit arts organizations in 2005.
But what if the economy tanks, rather than just a couple of companies? In six months, foundations will assess their portfolios, the government will start to cut spending, and individual donors might start to pull back. When the workaday, six-figure suit starts to get chintzy, then it's white-knuckle time.