Corporate giving to arts-related causes fell by 11 per cent in the UK in 2009/10 compared with the previous year, according to figures released yesterday by Arts & Business.
The figures show that business donations to the arts sector fell to £144m in 2009/10 and were lower than in 2003/04.
Overall, private giving to arts causes - including giving by individuals, companies, and trusts and foundations - fell by 3 per cent in real terms to £658m.
The only category of private donation that increased was from trusts and foundations, which went up by 11 per cent to £154.6m.
Giving by individuals was down by 4 per cent to £359m.
The region that saw the largest overall fall was the south east, where private giving was down by 20 per cent.
Colin Tweedy, chief executive of Arts & Business, said it was relieved because the figures could have been a lot worse.
"At the very peak of the recession, private investment in culture held up, though most investment continues to be swept up by the major cultural institutions.
"We will still collectively need to nourish all forms of private sector investment; in particular, if we neglect corporate sponsorship we will damage the whole cultural ecology."
A spokesman for Arts Council England said private investment was "one of the key pillars" of the UK's mixed-economy funding system.
"The Arts Council is working with arts organisations to encourage giving to the arts," he said. "Alongside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, we recently announced a challenge fund to raise philanthropic giving and our new funding system will help to spread fundraising expertise across the whole arts sector."
Klara Kozlov, corporate adviser at the Charities Aid Foundation, said the business sector could do a lot more to improve society by working with charities.
"In tough economic times, some companies will have less funds to give," she said. "Many companies we are talking to are already reviewing their CSR budgets in light of tougher budgetary constraints. Charities will need to closely follow any corporate changes in strategy and tailor approaches accordingly."
A spokesman for Arts & Business said a full analysis of the figures would be released in its annual Private Investment in Culture report in the next couple of weeks.