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The Cost of Generosity?

May. 16, 2017
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Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infinitedecay/

A recent local news article may have piqued your interest. It chronicled the funding habits of a major conservative philanthropic institution, the Bradley Foundation. WUWM’s Lake Effect did a segment on it as well. Over the decades, the Bradley Foundation has funded many of Milwaukee’s arts organizations like the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum, among others. The article discussed its funding strategies and criteria. It mentioned the foundation’s suspicions regarding MPM’s director. It seems he may believe in climate change. That’s anathema in conservative circles and could prove costly. Meanwhile, the MSO got $15 million.

Generosity at this level comes with a certain obligation, a quid pro quo that expects the recipient to endorse a particular agenda. Consider Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ donations to politicians who subsequently voted for her appointment or insurance companies’ contributions to Republican congressmen who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I once applied to our local LGBT philanthropic organization for a grant for the Gay Arts Center. I was told, “Our donors are business people, not artists.” Naïve as I was, I didn’t quite get the message. Later it dawned on me that businesses see philanthropy as just another marketing tool. There are certainly true altruists among them, but many give to causes as a tax deduction, a bribe and, like other paid advertising, for exposure. The collateral positive impact on the arts or whatever the charity might be is purely coincidental.

The article also mentioned our old friend Pope Benedict, or rather his portrait, entitled “Eggs Benedict,” as rendered by Milwaukee artist Nikki Johnson. Made of condoms woven in the manner of a good Sarouk, the work addresses the AIDS crisis in Africa and the papal opposition to the effective and logical latex solution. AIDS activist and philanthropist Joe Pabst had donated it to the museum. Behind the scenes, the Bradley Foundation demanded the work not be put on public view. MAM, deferring to its mission, displayed it anyway.

During a panel discussion about “Eggs,” those who found it offensive rationalized by relying on Catholic Church doctrine banning birth control, including condom use, under any circumstances. Therefore, even though they help contain the spread of HIV/AIDS, condoms are equally forbidden. Besides, a speaker opined, Africa’s climate (I guess there’s only one) compromised condom shelf life, and the locals didn’t want to use them anyway. Still, she reminded the audience the Church provides care for AIDS victims. In other words, no funding for prevention but they’re happy to pay the cost of treatment. Fine. After a brief showing, the work went into storage. But, the act of integrity would cost the museum a $90,000 Bradley Foundation grant.

It’s a two-way street, of course. Liberal donors support causes in their own moral image and likeness. They embrace the message of social justice, equality, diversity and the environment. With this rationale, ABC recently cancelled a sitcom, “The Last Man Standing,” starring conservative comic Tim Allen.

For LGBT supplicants, the message should be quite clear: Who dances for dollars, must parrot the piper’s political agenda. Hopefully, it’s a liberal one.

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