Legacies of Cultural Philanthropy in Asia

Mary Zurbuchen


During the second half of the 20th century the Ford Foundation – at the time the world’s largest private philanthropy – made a significant commitment to issues of cultural heritage as part of its international work in Asia. Across countries in South and Southeast Asia, in particular, foundation grants were made to governments, private institutions, and individuals engaged in a wide range of fields in the arts, humanities, and applied sciences such as archaeology. The Foundation’s culture programs embraced tangible heritage as well as a range of living traditions and cultural expression. Such rubrics served as important labels locating culture within the broad portfolio of the Foundation’s grant-making, as well as touchstones employed to justify philanthropy’s attention to culture in contrast to the dominant emphasis of international aid on economic development and modernization. This paper will look at how one of the world’s most important international philanthropies built a rationale for activism in cultural fields in Asia, how a decentralized format for local decision-making enabled sustained support for building capacity and knowledge in the arts and humanities, and, ultimately, how the ‘culture lens’ has gradually been displaced– or perhaps redefined – in the Foundation’s current international work.


Art; Asia; Culture; Ford Foundation; Philanthropy

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14764/10.ASEAS-2017.2-3


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