“Day #244 The Colour of Money” — photo by flickr user Martin Weller

Next time you hear someone complaining yet again about hard times for the arts, you might want to point out that Giving USA Foundation and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy reported in June that charitable giving is up for a fifth consecutive year. In 2014, contributions increased more than 7%, and were up across all four categories tracked: living individuals, foundations, bequests, and corporations. Not only that, giving in the arts increased by 9.2%, the biggest jump of any sector. Overall, 4.8%–roughly $17.2 billion–of the $358.38 billion in charitable donations given in 2014 was directed towards arts and culture, placing seventh out of ten cause areas. (Religion, the perennial winner, pulled in $114.9 billion, though its share continues to drop.) Total gifts last year–driven by mega-gifts given by tech entrepreneurs–surpassed the peak last seen before the Great Recession.

Supreme Court Upholds the Affordable Care Act: We would be remiss to pass by June without acknowledging the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in favor of allowing the federal government to provide tax subsidies to help individuals buy health insurance. This is the second time the Affordable Care Act has come before the Supreme Court, and the second time that Chief Justice Roberts–a Republican–sided with his liberal colleagues on the bench. In 2012, his controlling opinion was belabored; in 2015, affirmative, establishing an expansive precedent that will make future challenges difficult. Had the Supreme Court not upheld the subsidies, residents of the 34 states which refused to set up exchanges of their own (and thus use exchanges managed by the federal government) would have lost their subsidies, affecting at least six and half, and as many as nine million, Americans. Much has been written about the benefit of the Affordable Care Act to independent artists, and we can only imagine that the loss of subsidies in states without their own exchanges would have been a disaster for this community.

Ford Foundation Focuses on Inequality: In the first major overhaul of its grant making priorities since 2007, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker announced that the foundation will direct all its resources to curbing global inequality. Although the foundation is committed to asking hard questions of its grantees, its view of inequality is broad, encompassing wealth, race, ethnicity, and gender as well as issues of access to technology and the arts. Crucially, Mr. Walker has also pledged to double the foundation’s general operating support to 40% of its grant-making budget, which will no doubt be welcome news to grantees the world over. As the second largest private foundation in the United States, one with a rich history of supporting the arts, Ford’s choices will have deep and far-reaching impact. Still, given the foundation’s pre-existing focus on social justice, it remains to be seen whether this new focus will result in significant changes in the way the foundation functions or simply new branding for the work it’s already doing.

Apple Unveils its Music Streaming Platform: Apple is the latest to jump on the increasingly crowded music streaming bandwagon. In June, it unveiled Apple Music, its own music streaming platform spearheaded by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. There’s nothing particularly innovative about Apple’s platform, though a few features may ultimately set it apart: Netflix-level hyper-customization, hyper-vigilant personalization, Beats 1 radio with shows by Dr. Dre, Elton John, Pharrell Williams, Drake, Q-Tip, St. Vincent, Ellie Goulding, Jaden Smith and others, and an emphasis on the artist-centric social network (as opposed to the friend-centric one, embraced by Spotify and others.) There’s also no free version, only a $9.99/month subscription, but Apple has a marketplace advantage: the app is packaged into every iOS download, and it integrates neatly with iTunes, which at last count had some 800 millions user accounts. The roll out was overshadowed, however, by a letter posted by New York’s attorney general mere hours after the reveal, announcing that the streaming music business, Apple included, is under antitrust investigation.What everyone’s really talking about, however, is Taylor Swift, and how she–along with others–managed to pressure Apple into paying royalties for music played during the app’s three-month trial period. If only authors had a similarly powerful superstar who could pressure Amazon into paying royalties on the number of Kindle books downloaded, rather than on the number of pages read (currently applied only to self-published books, but the backlash has been quick).

Canada Council to Simplify Grant Programs: In a major restructuring, the Canada Council announced in June that it would streamline its grant making programs, reducing 147 separate programs–each with its own guidelines, deadlines and reporting–to a mere six. The new format will kick in in 2017, when the council turns 60. With this restructuring, the council hopes to eliminate administrative redundancies and increase organizational capacity, which would allow it to expand and refine the peer-review evaluation system and offer more application dates, making it easier for artists and organizations to apply on a cycle that makes sense of their work.