For philanthropists, it can be difficult to figure out what causes to properly support. With so many organizations seeking funds, it takes research and planning to establish a giving plan. And when you’re giving back to an organization centered around the arts, it can be difficult to justify due to the unclear impact that art makes.

However, given its universal nature and ability to improve the quality of life for individuals, art clearly holds plenty of intrinsic value. Some successful art-based philanthropic projects have involved bringing art to individuals who would not otherwise be exposed to it, while others promote social change or even lead to economic development.

Most philanthropists have something of an aversion to donating to the arts, but many of these organizations are underfunded, especially in impoverished countries. Furthermore, any initiatives in these countries are government funded, leading to art that fulfills a specific political or economic purpose. South African playwright Mike van Graan is an advocate of philanthropic support of the arts, stating that, “[s]upport of the arts and artists is necessary to promote and defend independent artistic expression and distribution.”

This is one of the benefits of supporting the arts through philanthropy; imparting meaningful cultural change. Art is a fundamentally human undertaking, and it is through art that hearts and minds are changed or inspired. With support, art can spur discussion of controversial issues and lead to conversations that would not otherwise occur. Conservative societies often overlook or downplay issues in society such as treatment of women or discrimination, and it is up to artists to find ways to make the populace aware of things that can be improved.

Of course, not all art is for this purpose. But even in cases of art for the sake of enjoyment, is not the fundamental point of philanthropy to improve the quality of human life?

There’s a common conception that supporting the arts can be construed as “elitist,” that often, the myopic view of art is that of Renaissance painters or famous composers. Cultural centers are not dedicated to bringing this kind of art to locals but rather giving them the tools to create themselves and bring a community together. Often, philanthropic supporters of the arts will focus on forgotten areas for the purpose of providing them with resources that they lack, governments and others not bothering to support these communities. This is the first step to giving residents of these places a voice to speak up about their experiences and needs.

Even with these benefits, it is still difficult to quantifiably assert that art makes an impact. However, I would urge any philanthropist considering donating to the arts to consider the long-term effects that art can have on the well-being of the artist and those around him or her. There are many other worthy causes to support, but given the long-term benefits of the arts when it comes to providing joy and promoting self-expression, it is obvious that this is something that embodies everything philanthropy stands for.