Why should philanthropists fund the arts? Some have argued that as art is of lesser importance than basics like food, shelter, health and so forth, there is no justification for funding art until world hunger is solved. How then can one justify spending on so-called high arts? Can the arts be seen as effective tools to bring about personal and social change? Is art transformative? Our subject for this Alliance special feature is philanthropy’s attitudes to and role in funding ‘arts and social change’.