Arts and impact investing

Gayle Peterson

The March feature on the role and value of arts and culture in philanthropy was provocative and, for me, very timely. I have just finished directing the Oxford Impact Investing Programme where, for the first time in three years, we had participants who came specifically to learn more about arts and impact investing. The programme also coincides with my research for an upcoming book, Good, Evil, Wicked: The art, science, and business of giving, which showcases innovative investments in the arts as a social change tool.

Impact investing in the arts has a long history. An Ashmolean Museum curator told programme participants the story of paisley, describing how Nur Jahan, queen of Mughal India during the 17th century, influenced commerce, fashion and social change across centuries through her courage, artistry and investment.

In the 1970s, the Ford Foundation, a pioneer of programme related investments (PRIs), invested US$1 million in the Studio Museum in Harlem as interim funding. This helped the museum get a government grant to renovate a permanent space.

The MacArthur Foundation, also a long-time leader in PRIs, launched an Arts and Culture Loan Fund to support strong arts organizations to help fulfil the foundation’s mission of ‘building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world’. In late 2007, when the recession threatened the viability of arts organizations in Chicago, MacArthur worked with local banks and technical assistance providers to help organizations access commercial loans.

‘Increasingly, funders and investors are realizing that arts and impact investing bridges finance, policy and social change.’

The Canadian Inspirit Foundation has invested in Artspace Youngplace, a project to help promote social inclusion. Artspace, in partnership with Inspirit and public and private co-investors, invests in real estate projects that provide cooperative and affordable living and working arrangements for artists, organizations and non-profits working to advance public policy, private development, community and philanthropic interests.

In the UK, Arts Council England has launched a £7 million Arts Impact Fund to show how impact investing can offer alternative sources of non-grant income to arts organizations.

In Russia, the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, while not formally impact investing itself, is investing in museums which are in turn spearheading new social enterprises and new business models countrywide and fostering a new generation of critical and creative thinkers.

Increasingly, funders and investors are realizing that arts and impact investing bridges finance, policy and social change. Thinking out of the box opens the door to exciting possibilities for the field.

Gayle Peterson
Programme director, Oxford Impact Investing Programme 

Next letter to read:
Why programme evaluation is crucial
What about radical philanthropy?
Getting round the measurement dilemma 


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