Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows on another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings, popes, and the wealthy have provided to artists such as musicians, painters, and sculptors. It can also refer to the right of bestowing offices or church benefices, the business given to a store by a regular customer, and the guardianship of saints. The word "patron" derives from the Latin: patronus ("patron"), one who gives benefits to his clients (see Patronage in ancient Rome).
In some countries the term is used to describe political patronage, which is the use of state resources to reward individuals for their electoral support. Some patronage systems are legal, as in the Canadian tradition of the Prime Minister to appoint senators and the heads of a number of commissions and agencies; in many cases, these appointments go to people who have supported the political party of the Prime Minister. As well, the term may refer to a type of corruption or favoritism in which a party in power rewards groups, families, or ethnicities for their electoral support using illegal gifts or fraudulently awarded appointments or government contracts.
In many Latin American countries, patronage developed as a means of population control, concentrating economic and political power in a small minority which held privileges that the majority of the population did not. In this system, the patrón holds authority and influence over a less powerful person, whom he protects by granting favors in exchange for loyalty and allegiance. With roots in feudalism, the system was designed to maintain an inexpensive, subservient labor force, which could be utilized to limit production costs and allow wealth and its privileges to be monopolized by a small elite. Long after slavery, and other forms of bondage like the encomienda and repartimiento systems were abolished, patronage was used to maintain rigid class structures. With the rise of a labor class, traditional patronage changed in the 20th century to allow some participation in power structures, but many systems still favor a small powerful elite, who distributes economic and political favors in exchange for benefits to the lower classes.