There is a lot of debate about whether the arts are declining in society, particularly with the seemingly-perpetual need for funds for the arts. Here is my take on the topic:
The arts (performing, visual, etc.) are a fundamental human need. They are incredibly important, because they bring beauty and creativity to the world. They give us permission to feel deeply. For this reason, the arts will always be with us, whichever form they take, and no one expresses that idea better than Karl Paulnack, in his welcome speech at the Boston Conservatory. (Here is a link to it.)
However, the same cannot be said of your beloved arts organization or artist--national, local, or otherwise. They may not survive without your support. The New York City Opera, the Baltimore Opera Company, and the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet are just a few of the organizations that have had to close recently because of lack of funding.
The need for patronage and funding in the arts is nothing new. In fact, funding is such a fundamental need in the arts, that it's difficult to talk about the names of artists in history, without talking about the patrons who made their work possible. Examples include Monteverdi and the Gonzagas, Diego Velázquez and King Philip IV of Spain, Haydn and the Esterhazys.
Now, you don't have to be a European aristocrat to help the arts in your communities! (I'm certainly not!) ;) There are several ways to support the arts:
One way to do so is through donations. Another great way is through membership (if available), since you will also receive exclusive benefits to the very arts organizations you love and value, anything from unlimited museum entry for the year to getting to meet the stars in that particular field. For example, I got to skip the miles-long lines to see the special Matisse exhibit recently at MoMA because of a Global membership there--not to mention the unlimited entry I get to the museum the rest of the year! I also had a Parterre seat at Carnegie Hall for only $20(!) to Stephanie Blythe's recital this month, because I'm a part of Notable Preludes there (at a "whopping" $20 for the year!) Membership is a fantastic way to get these kinds of benefits, while also helping your arts organizations.
For those of you interested in higher-level memberships, you can frequently do the payments in installments, with less financial burden on you, and a major positive impact on your arts organization!
Most websites have information as to ways you can support your arts in your community, whether on a national or local level. This is often on their websites under "Support" or "Membership." Often, there are also match grants, which means that a trustee is matching every dollar you give, doubling the impact of your donation. This is a very easy way to make a larger impact, with little effort on your part!
Also, a lot of arts organizations apply for grants, which are awarded on the basis of participation. This means they are awarded on the basis of how many people have given to that organization, not how much they gave. This means that even giving an arts organization the amount you would spend on a cup of coffee would help open the door to hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant money.
If you love the arts in your community, and want them to continue, please support them in any way you can. By doing so, you make sure that the specific art YOU love can continue. There is no amount so small that it wouldn't make a positive and significant impact. The arts help to bring the best of humanity, excellence, beauty, and vulnerability to the world. Please do what you can to help bring the arts in your life.