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