Who and What Makes a Philanthropist?

I started BcauseARTS to raise awareness about two major topics I am very passionate about: the increasing interest and mystique into Australian philanthropy and the recent heartbreaking decision to cut over $100 million dollars of government support for the independent arts sector. I would like the BcauseARTS community to address important questions, topics and experiences within these two ideas.

So I begin today with defining “philanthropy.” What is it? What does it mean to be a philanthropist? According to Webster’s dictionary, “philanthropy” is defined as “an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes.” Similarly, Wikipedia states that the word, of Greek decent, means “love of humanity.”

Think of all the kinds of non-profit organisations that exist and what they do: there are some organisations focused on child and family welfare, education, health and wellbeing, disease control and prevention, animal rights and well-being and (a personal bias) the arts. These organisations serve to build awareness of the unjust circumstances associated within the topic. For example, non-profits who support child and family welfare become the voice of those who have few because of current circumstance. They raise money to help the unfortunate souls break free from poverty.

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Fundraisers are becoming increasingly popular in Australia with at least one event happening monthly in Melbourne. As a runner, I personally keep track of all the upcoming races in and around Melbourne, most of which raise money for a non-profit health-related organisation. This past Sunday, for example, I participated in the MCG Stadium Stomp climbing over 7,000 steps and my admissions fee went to the Leukemia Foundation, a health and well-being non-profit organisation. I assume from my participation bib number there were at least over 3,600 participants. And according to the website, the Stomp raised $58,452.78 for the Leukemia Foundation!

Are those participants considered philanthropists? I say why not! They gave a moment of their time to participate in an event that benefited another's struggles.

So where are opportunities for more philanthropists outside of admission fees? A great opportunity is found at any museum, gallery or arts venue. Last Sunday (yes, the same day I did the Stadium Stomp…I planned a full day so my legs wouldn’t cramp after climbing over 7,000 steps) I visited the new exhibition at Federation Square’s Yarra Building called THE ABORIGINE IS PRESENT by Robyn Latham. The free exhibit, presenting every weekend throughout the month of July, is inspired by Marina Abramovic’s THE ARTIST IS PRESENT performed at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art a few years ago, and invites audiences to sit opposite members of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members and simply be ‘Present.’ According to a recent interview with The Age, Latham hopes the exhibition will allow Australians “to move past the shame, blame guilt, all of those things that are in the collective unconscious of most of Australia, to go beyond that, to actually seeing the person”. Though I am not a native Australian I focused on the opportunity for making human connection.

After my experience with THE ABORIGINE IS PRESENT I exited the Yarra Building and noticed a donation collection box with a sign taped to the front informing me that the Koorie Heritage Trust sponsored this exhibit. The Trust was collecting donations to continue its efforts to support future Aborigine art collections for the community’s enjoyment. What was most interesting is that no one person nor the box demanded I give or note how much I should give, but I did anyway. With very little money on me, I dropped $0.50 into the jar.

$0.50, I know, is not a lot but it can quickly add up. Let’s add some perspective: I noticed that there were roughly 15 people observing the exhibit during that same 20-minute time frame I attended. If each of those 15 people also dropped $0.50 into the donation collection box, the Trust would have raised $7.50. Now, going further, we can assume that of those 15 people, more money could be dropped in the collection other than $0.50 – let’s say every 3rd person dropped $1. In 20 minutes, the Trust could have raised $10! And what might the trust do with that money? According to that collection sign, it will go towards supporting more indigenous artists displaying quality entertainment benefitting the entire community.

The point being is that everyone has the ability and opportunity to be a philanthropist. Every cent makes sense and can be used to increase the “love of humanity.” And that’s why philanthropy exists.

I could go on and on about this topic for ages, but I want to open the floor up to the community. Let me know what you think philanthropy is all about, and how you may have participated in a philanthropic act recently. Also, what current exhibitions, performances, installations, street art, etc. have you experienced and others should see too? Share your comments below or you can email me at bcausearts@gmail.com. Please note: This is intended to be a safe community where opinions are valued and shared without fear of judgement or ridicule. Please respect the opinions and statement written in the comments.

I look forward to reading your words…