Monday, October 8, 2007

Visions of sugar plums?

More than 200 arts groups in New York stand to lose some $7 million a year in grants with the departure from the city of Altria Group and its tobacco subsidiary, Philip Morris USA, The New York Times reports:

Philip Morris USA’s new headquarters is in Richmond, and the city’s artists and arts groups might be forgiven for reading the Times article with visions of sugar plums to come.

The company is already one of the major donors to some of the larger local arts groups – one of the four biggest corporate contributors to the Richmond Symphony, giving more than $50,000 this season, and among the highest-level donors ($1 million or more) to the Richmond CenterStage project. Philip Morris' support of independent and experimental groups in New York, if transplanted here, could be transformative.

But I doubt we can expect an infusion of dollars on anything like the New York scale.

One of the reasons corporations consolidate and relocate, as Philip Morris is doing, is to "maximize shareholder value," i.e., turn bigger profits faster. The level of giving to nonprofits is a factor in that bottom-line calculation.

Another, maybe more important, factor: Corporate grants and sponsorships are an indirect kind of advertising – in the case of a tobacco company, generating good will more than product sales. Being seen to do good by 19 million in greater New York – plus millions more who take their cultural cues from New York – presumably will outweigh the value of being seen to do good by 1 million in greater Richmond.