New report: Boston is second only to New York in spending on the arts, but government spends less on art in Boston than in 10 other major American cities

January 21, 2016

BOSTON – A new study commissioned by the Boston Foundation on how Boston and comparable cities support the arts shows that only New York City has higher per capita contributed revenue for the art than Boston, among major American cities.

“The Boston Foundation, among other institutions in Greater Boston, has long called for a deep look at how our community at large treats its arts community and cultural institutions,” said Paul S. Grogan, President & CEO of the Boston Foundation.  “It is no coincidence that cities and regions with thriving economies tend to have robust arts and cultural communities, as well. This study has allowed us to dig deep and examine various types of arts spending in Boston and comparable cities and what more can be done to support our arts and cultural institutions.”

The study, titled “How Boston and Other American Cities Support and Sustain the Arts: Funding for Cultural Nonprofits in Boston and 10 Other Metropolitan Cities,” also examined Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Portland Oregon, San Francisco, and Seattle. “How Boston” is a follow-up of sorts to a 2003 Boston Foundation report titled, “Funding for Cultural Organizations in Boston and Nine Other Metropolitan Areas.”

Key findings of this study, regarding Boston, include the fact that Boston’s arts market is quite densely populated. While Greater Boston is the nation’s 10th largest metro area and ranks ninth for total Gross Domestic Product, its non-profit arts market, which consists of more than 1,500 organizations, is comparable to that of New York and San Francisco, and consistently surpasses large cities such as Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia, in terms of the number of organizations and their per capita expenses.

Further, Boston’s arts organizations of all sizes are engaging audiences, the study says. In 2012, for example, $350 million in ticket sales and other participation-based resources was earned by Boston organizations, putting Boston in third place in per capita revenue behind New York and San Francisco.
Boston didn’t rank near the top of every positive list in the study, though. The city receives the least government funding per capita among the comparison cities. Boston has relatively few foundations making grants to the arts. And what funding is available skews toward larger arts and culture organizations in this region.

For example, Boston’s three largest artistic or cultural institutions – the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Museum of Fine Arts and WGBH – account for more than 40 percent of total expenses of all Boston-area organizations, and their presence in this region puts Boston in the same class as New York and San Francisco, in terms institutional spending. So without that top three, Boston’s financial picture would look a lot more like those of the smaller cities in the study.

The study concludes that the absence of substantive foundation and government participation in the development of the Boston’s arts community is as important as the lack of foundation and government funding.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of some $1 billion. In 2015, the Foundation and its donors made more than $110 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of approximately $120 million. In celebration of its centennial in 2015, the Boston Foundation launched the Campaign for Boston to strengthen the Permanent Fund for Boston, Greater Boston’s only endowment fund supporting organizations focused on the most pressing needs of Greater Boston.  The Foundation is proud to be a partner in philanthropy, with nearly 1,000 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.

The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener and sponsor of special initiatives that address the region’s most serious challenges. The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), an operating unit of the Foundation, designs and implements customized philanthropic strategies for families, foundations and corporations around the globe. For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit or call 617-338-1700.