Charity on the English and early American model must be distinguished from philanthropy as it developed in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Philanthropy aims at the systemic eradication of social ills rather than, as does charity, at their amelioration. The general purpose philanthropic foundation became the standard vehicle for effecting this purpose, and made significant contributions to a variety of fields until the Great Depression, though funding for the arts was fairly limited. Much of the role of foundations was assumed by the federal government as it expanded in power and scope after World War II, often adopting the foundation modus operandi as its own. Partly as a result, foundations began to support the arts and culture, and when corporate philanthropy emerged in the 1950s it was also often aimed at the arts and culture. The National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities have been responsible since 1965 for the central government contribution to these fields. Recent changes in the foundation sector include the growth in the number of new, very well endowed foundations; the emergence of conservative foundations; a contraction in the scope of foundation funding, including fewer and smaller grants to the arts and culture; and the rising number of community and family foundations. American philanthropy is undoubtedly responsive to government policy and economic cycles, but there remains despite vicissitudes a unique affinity for philanthropy in the United States, perhaps explained in part by the relative weakness of the American state. In Europe, a different historical tradition and legal framework has given rise to different forms of support for the arts and culture, with a greater role for the state. Recent trends, however, suggest that non-American philanthropy is coming to resemble philanthropy in the United States.
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