Art and the Twenty-First Century Gift: Corporate Philanthropy and Government Funding in the Cultural Sector

January 1, 2014

Published by: University of Surrey. 2014, UK. 22 pages.

Author: Victoria D. Alexander


Marcel Mauss’s work on the archaic gift contributes to understandings of corporate and government support of arts organisations, or ‘institutional funding’. His approach allows us to see institutional funding as a gift that is embedded in a system of exchange wherein gifts come with a variety of obligations, and self-interest and disinterestedness are inseparable. The institutional gift operates through money and contracts; nevertheless, it entails obligations to give, to receive and to reciprocate. This system of obligations has been joined, in the contemporary institutional gift, by another obligation: the obligation to ask.


Institutional funding of the arts has acquired additional twenty-first century elements. The article elaborates these, using the UK as an example. It also argues that the ambivalence felt by some members of the arts world about institutional funding stems, in large part, from the obligations inherent in the gift. 


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