Column & Interview

This page introduces columns and interviews about art and culture from various viewpoints by Arts Council Board members, professionals in the field, etc.


Philanthropic Grants in the Run-up to 2020

Board member of Arts Council Tokyo / Managing Director of the Saison Foundation
Masao Katayama

In my previous column, I questioned whether there was sufficient recognition of the significance and possibilities of grants in Japan’s cultural policy. This time, I would like to take the discussion a step further and talk about the fact that the term “grant” broadly encompasses two approaches.
In the world of grantmaking foundations in the U.S.A., one often hears talk of “philanthropy, not charity.” One could say that they both have similar meanings, because, if used separately, they both mean donations for social, charitable purposes. However, when used in a contrasting sense like this, they take on a slightly different nuance. Put simply, though the donation might be the same, charity is “the act of extending a hand to someone who is struggling before one’s eyes,” while philanthropy is “the act of seeking to eliminate the problem itself by changing the factors at the root of the problem.”
In the context of cultural policy, one example of the former is the provision of a grant to make up the deficit that inevitably arises when nongovernmental organizations arrange performances, thereby enabling such performances to take place. This is basically the style adopted by public and private grants in Japan. The recipient of the grant is grateful for it, while the party providing the grant achieves an immediate, visible “effect” in the form of the performance actually taking place. The only problem is that continuing to provide such grants year after year does nothing to remedy the situation that causes the deficit in the first place.
In contrast, the latter approach involves asking the following questions when making decisions about grants.

  • Why does the deficit occur? What are the contributory factors?
  • Is there any possibility of eliminating (reducing) the deficit by changing those factors?
  • If there is such a possibility, what (new) methods could be used to make that change happen?
  • Which of these options would be feasible and most realistic if the grant were provided?

This is how the initiatives that are candidates to receive grants are narrowed down, but as you know, answering these questions requires considerable knowledge and know-how. It is also likely to necessitate time-consuming research. However, if an initiative of this kind gradually bears fruit and results in a situation in which an improvement in the deficit can be expected, its influence will extend well beyond a single group, because this experience will be turned into an asset shared by the sector as a whole. The effect will also be sustained. In other words, it will become possible to “economize” substantially on charity in the future.
When looking at charitable grants and philanthropic grants, it is not a question of which is right and which is wrong; nor is it a matter of which is more effective. From a policy perspective, a combination of both types is required.
Nevertheless, it would seem fair to say that an organization like an arts council ought to focus on not only charitable, but also philanthropic grants. This is because, while even individual donors can make charitable grants, as can companies as part of their corporate support of the arts, philanthropic grants can only be made by specialized agencies that have both a certain level of funds and specialist knowledge of that field.
In general, philanthropic grants do not reach fruition unless they are implemented over a time frame of several years, so in that sense too, this form of grant is suited to an organization with a specific mission. That is also why private U.S. grantmaking foundations talk about “philanthropy, not charity.”  
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are approaching rapidly. A considerable sum is expected to be devoted to the associated Cultural Program in the run-up to 2020. As such, rather than permitting it to end up as just a one-off festival, we should turn it into an opportunity to create some kind of “legacy” that we can bequeath to future generations.
A consensus is already coalescing around this idea, so this would seem to be the perfect time to start working on philanthropic grants. In one sense, philanthropic grants could be described as grants that aspire to solve a problem, while in another, one could say that they aim to build community stock (assets) and infrastructure. In other words, they are nothing less than grants for creating a legacy.