We provide a case study of how Carnegie Foundation grants to the University of Alberta (Western Canada) during the Great Depression impacted the university’s community engagement practices. Previously unutilized archival sources contribute to a historical survey of the university’s Department of Extension as Carnegie philanthropy enabled the establishment of a Fine Arts Division within this department. The many benefits to the wider province, however, were laden with imperialist assumptions around race and the European “canon,” and thus contributed to the concurrent development of settler institutions and erasure of Indigenous people’s cultures and livelihoods. As Alberta’s economy shrinks, unemployment increases, and university funding is cut, it remains unclear whether the desire for new and innovative forms of outreach and engagement seen in the Great Depression still exists today. Concluding, we ask what alternatives to philanthropy we can, as scholars, university employees, and citizens, make available.