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The Humanities, Arts, and Education

Rediscovering the Vitality of the Humanities Not-for-Profit Sector

Most Americans have been touched by private not-for-profit humanities organizations, either knowingly or unknowingly. If an American has enjoyed a Fourth of July parade sponsored by the local historical society, enjoyed a local library supported by a “friends of” group, wandered through the National Gallery of Art on a trip to the nation’s capital, or chatted in English with a recent immigrant who learned the language with the help of literacy volunteers, he or she has experienced the work of a private not-for-profit humanities organization.

In September 2015 the Humanities Indicators (HI) provided fresh evidence of the breadth and health of not-for-profit humanities organizations. The new measures of the size and revenues of these institutions show humanities organizations are an incredibly diverse group, both in terms of their resources and missions. Fully understanding this organizational sector—the variety of contributions it makes and the impact those contributions have on communities—requires a range of approaches. With its Humanities Landscape Map and Engaged Humanities initiatives, the National Humanities Alliance provides insight into the geographic distribution of these organizations and the richness of their work. The new measures from the HI offer quantitative trend data to chart change over time in the size, composition, and distribution of resources in this sector.

For instance, as shown in the figure below, the size of the sector and its revenues increased substantially (up 132%) from 1989 to 2004, with growth moderating in the subsequent eight years.

Our report can provide only a partial picture of the entire universe of organizations, however, because it relies on federal tax returns tabulated by the National Center for Charitable Statistics. As a result, the data include only public charities recognized by the government and, from that group, only those organizations with typical annual revenues of $50,000 or more. (For a detailed explanation of this threshold, see the “About the Data” section under the relevant indicators.)

For an assessment of what the data can tell us, and what they might miss, the HI asked two keen observers of this sector to share their reaction to the updated indicators. The first commentator is John Dichtl, the president of the American Association for State and Local History, who is deeply familiar with the rewards and challenges facing the history organizations that constitute nearly a third of the organizations in the new report and 17% of the revenues. The second commentator, Carole Rosenstein, associate professor of arts management at George Mason University, brings a deep knowledge of arts organizations, many of which draw on vital humanities disciplines—such as art history—and promote a key humanities competency: the critical appreciation of art. Dr. Rosenstein also aided in the development of the data for the HI report. We hope their remarks are but the start of a public conversation about these organizations and their role in supporting humanities practitioners and extending the reach of their work into American communities large and small.

September 25, 2015

Historical Organizations: Ubiquitous but Under-resourced

posted by John Dichtl

When I, as a representative of the historical community, look at the numbers in the new report, I see that historical organizations are ubiquitous but unfortunately only modestly resourced. The report points out that history represents the largest sector of humanities organizations, 32% of the total, but history organizations capture only 18%    More... 

September 25, 2015

Missing Pieces of the Humanities Not-for-Profit Sector

posted by Carole E. Rosenstein

The IRS Form 990 data used by the Humanities Indicators (HI) to produce this valuable report have two strengths: first, they provide an excellent tool for creating benchmarks to track the health and growth of the not-for-profit humanities subsector over time; second, they help to show how the humanities fare in comparison    More... 

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