Q: Your lifelong dedication to philanthropy comprises unusually broad interests, from homelessness to--as the creation of The Alice attests--the arts and literature. Acknowledging the vital role arts play in nourishing a healthy society, is it sometimes difficult to apportion funds to an illustrator/author/artist when that money could be used to directly combat acute pain and suffering in a homeless situation? How do you decide?
A: Our family foundation supports civil rights and civil liberties and many social programs; we were founders of the New York Cares Coat Drive. We also support parks and environmental concerns, like the New York water supply; and we support historic preservation, including the fight to save Grand Central Terminal and Carnegie Hall. And we support the arts, mainly exhibitions and catalogues--and now the Furthermore grants in publishing program.
Serious social issues, like homelessness, are way beyond the capacity of private foundations and require the government to fix them. A good thing foundations can do is push government to do its job!--help it do the right thing, fight against its doing the wrong thing (like killing food stamps for poor people). Also, foundations are not charity--charity is when private people give to favorite causes like the Red Cross, food pantries, theaters, etc. Foundations should help new ventures get started (museums?), sustain not-so-popular causes (protecting the right to vote?) and challenge the establishment (new landmark laws?).
-- Joan K. Davidson
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