Con Edison Becomes Latest Philanthropic Contributor to Turn Away From the Arts

As companies across the country leave the arts, and Mayor Adams proposes new budget cuts, Con Ed changes its giving focus.

By: Nov. 20, 2023
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Con Edison Becomes Latest Philanthropic Contributor to Turn Away From the Arts

New York energy company Con Edison, a longtime local supporter of the arts, is the latest corporation to back away from funding them. Dwindling corporate giving has been a problem across the country, as I’ve previously written. But this move from Con Ed is still surprising given that the company reinforced its dedication to the arts in recent years, launching “Arts Al Fresco”—a program of free outdoor experiences in the five boroughs, and Westchester, Orange and Rockland counties—in 2021, and bringing it back in 2022. Additionally, Con Ed continued to support other organizations, some it donated to for decades, as well. However, the company is now shifting its philanthropy focus and the arts is simply no longer a priority.

Con Ed had focused its philanthropy in the arts and culture, civic affairs, community development, education, and environmental spheres. Con Ed was always proud of its commitment to the arts—consistently donating to over 100 organizations and promoting that funding. When Arts Al Fresco and Con Ed's associated $850,000 sponsorship was announced, former Vice President Frances Resheske (who retired last year and herself had a commitment to the arts, serving for years as the President of the Queens Theatre Board of Directors) stated: “Con-Edison’s long-standing commitment to making the arts accessible to all New Yorkers is more important today than ever.”

Nevertheless, Con Edison materials explain, beginning in 2024, the company is “re-aligning our charitable grant efforts to invest in nonprofits who share our vision to combat the effects of climate change, advance social justice in the communities we serve, and create green jobs across our service territory.” Internally, company personnel are referring to these as the “three pillars” of giving.

I heard from someone at Con Ed that the transition to these “three pillars” is supposed to be a three-year process, but I spoke to seven arts organizations who have received Con Ed funding for many years, and each was told that they’ve already received their final grant or they will receive a final grant next year (some of these final grants will be less than an organization's historic annual grant). That doesn’t mean arts organizations can’t reapply for funding; Con Ed has an application process and a team to review those applications. Unfortunately, none of the organizations I spoke to, including a theater company that focuses on social justice (and therefore might fall into these new parameters), were given much hope about future funding by their Con Ed point person.

This is a blow at a time when other companies have already turned away from the arts and when Mayor Adams just proposed significant cuts in city spending (with more expected). None of the people I spoke to said their organization would completely collapse from the Con Ed-related funding gap—but they were each getting $10,000 to $30,000 annually from Con Ed and will feel that loss, now more than ever. (I also only spoke to a very small subset of grant recipients; the damage might be greater for other organizations.) 

But there is hope. New Yorkers for Culture & Arts is encouraging organizations to send a letter to Con Ed, which it partially drafted. The letter thanks Con Ed for its contribution to the arts, has a hole for an organization to insert its own story on how much the Con Ed contribution has meant to it, and notes there is overlap between the arts and at least two of the three pillars. The draft letter reads in part: “The cultural community has similarly emerged in this time with a rededication to the social and community justice and environmental aspects of all that we do. It’s worth noting that the funding you have given was particularly important to cultural organizations in communities of color, who often have limited access to private support. Losing this funding will be a real loss for those organizations and communities.”

“Lots of organizations depend on their annual gift from Con Ed, so it’s really rippling through the ecosystem,” Lucy Sexton, New Yorkers for Culture & Arts Executive Director, said. “Because they fund arts groups and festivals in every borough, they've been a real democratizing factor. It’s a real loss. I hope they reconsider, and I hope they at least consider funding arts groups that work in the social justice space.”

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