Grants to the arts in Minnesota declined 10 percent in 2009 compared with the previous year.

Figures released last week by the Minnesota Council on Foundations show arts-related giving by corporate, private and family foundations is down 19 percent since peaking in 2004.

The 177-member council represents three-quarters of the giving capacity of corporate and foundation support in Minnesota.

The main reason for the decrease was the poor economy, Bill King, president of the council, said Friday. "The declines in assets, in jobs, really impacted giving," he said. He added that "there also was some shifting in where givers place their priorities. We've seen some shift to education and human services."

The overall share of grants to the arts has declined steadily in recent years, the council reports, from 15 percent of total giving in 2004 to 11 percent in 2009, the most recent year with complete data. The arts received about $105.7 million from foundation and corporate sources in 2009, less than such other sectors as education, human services, and public affairs.

Twin Cities arts groups have definitely felt the pain.

"Over the years, we've seen that some stalwart and steady funders have become a little less stalwart and a little less steady," said Patricia Mitchell, president and CEO of the Ordway Center. "What worries me is not the short-term impact of the economy, but the longer-term one -- the shifting of priorities. The Bush Foundation used to fund artists, for example, but they're out of the arts business now."

A trend like that could hurt an arts scene that often is favorably compared to those of bigger U.S. cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, Mitchell added.

The arts are not alone in suffering declines. Six of the eight sectors tracked by the council saw funding drop-offs from 2008 to 2009. The exceptions were public affairs, where giving increased by 13 percent, and education, which remained flat. Human services giving was down by 16 percent, while religious giving declined by 11 percent in the same period.

The decrease in arts funding comes with two asterisks. Funding from the tax-funded Legacy Amendment is not counted. And overall, arts funding increased substantially in the last decade because of big capital projects such as the new facilities for the Guthrie Theater and the MacPhail Center for Music, new wings at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center, and planned upgrades at Orchestra Hall.

Despite the economic downturn, the $42 million Cowles Center recently opened, and the Weisman Art Museum is set to open a $14 million expansion.

"Arts organizations will have to adapt in this new environment," said Mitchell. "We're a big part of what makes the Twin Cities so vital; the arts and the natural resources are a big part of what attracts and attaches people to a community. We have to be nimble, and will find ways to continue to fulfill our mission."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390