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Jessica Berger

Examining the Funding Relationships Between Museums and Corporations

        Philanthropic relationships between arts and business entities are not a new phenomena.  In the United States, the matrix of funding sources for the arts has nearly always had a private business component.  The prosperity of the 1960s and ’70s marked a major upswing of artistic cultural awareness in the United States and, with it, formal organized business and arts alliances.  Then, in the 1980s, there was a sudden, dramatic move toward the intervention of big business into all aspects of contemporary culture, and characteristic of the time, corporations formed an unprecedented number of alliances with arts organizations.

            Today, museums and corporations seem to be converging towards establishing more mutually beneficial relationships with one another through business-oriented transactions that are more than just monetary.  Museum development departments have specialized staff whose specific responsibility is the cultivation of corporate funding relationships.  Museums design an extensive “menu” of restricted and unrestricted giving options like restricted grants and sponsorships, unrestricted membership gifts, in-kind gifts and services, and more that add to the mix of restricted and unrestricted grants and employee matching programs developed by corporations. 

Yet, the specific details regarding corporate relationships with the arts have received minimal scholarly attention thus far. The literature that does exist refers predominantly to corporate sponsorships and neglects other types of corporate giving to the arts.  The focus is mainly on performing arts organizations rather than the visual arts or museums. Terms regarding these various relationships, such as “sponsorship,” “partnership,” “charitable” and “strategic giving,” or “social investment,” are ambiguous in literature, and often entail different connotations and expectations when considered by the art organization than by the corporation.  Additionally, research is primarily one-sided, focusing on the strategic business innovation by the company in regards to art partnerships with little mention of the role of the art museum.

This thesis aims to address the following questions:

  • How has corporate philanthropic involvement in the arts evolved?
  • What are the primary motivations and benefits for both art museums and corporations in facilitating funding relationships with one another?
  • What role does the art museum play in developing and negotiating relationships with corporations?
  • What are the specific types of relationships (the “menu” of options) in which art museums and corporations engage today?
  • And how do corporations and museums view their relationships with one another?

         Jessica received her BA in English and Art History from Ripon College in 2001.  Prior to coming to Chicago, she curated several exhibitions at the Ripon College Caestecker Art Gallery and worked in the curatorial department at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.  While a student in the Arts Administration program, she interned for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs coordinating Chicago Artists’ Month, and helped orchestrate the Chicago Ravioli Project.  She currently works in development with the Department of Organizational Giving at the Art Institute of Chicago.


Thesis Advisor: Michael Dorf, Adjunct Professor, Arts Administration

Thesis Reader: Jill M. Britton, Associate Director of Organizational Giving, the Art Institute of Chicago



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