How Barr is Keeping Up with Boston’s Evolving Interest in Dance

As we recently pointed out, the arts sector in Boston has really been thriving lately, thanks to a city government that recognizes its importance and big-name foundations that keep the grants flowing. In a recent blog post, E. San San Wong, Barr’s arts & culture senior program officer, highlighted a few trends that are shaping Barr’s giving strategy.

Related: The Arts Are Thriving in Boston—Thanks in Part to This Foundation  

People are participating in the arts in different ways, preferring festivals and social interactions over traditional ballets and operas. Technology is changing the way Bostonians absorb all forms of art, and creative expression is being redefined on a regular basis. Vacant buildings are being transformed into creative community spaces, and performance venues are popping up in unexpected locations.

To build upon the surveys and research that are giving us these insights, the Barr Foundation recently awarded a $500,000 grant to Cambridge’s Dance Complex to renovate a storefront space into a dance studio and events venue. This Central Square organization is transforming the historic Odd Fellows Hall home into a location that’ll be visible to the Boston community and accessible for people with disabilities. Dance Complex celebrates many different styles of dance, offering nearly 100 classes in dozens of movement styles and serving professional dancers, children, and even senior citizens.

“All dancers in the area have some kind of relationship to the Dance Complex, have rehearsed here, taken a class, come to a performance,” said Mary McCarthy, the Dance Complex board chair. “It’s come to be a core of the dance community, so everyone has to feel like the wealth has been shared and given to the people with this gift. It’s a brave, bold investment.”

Barr hasn’t typically given a ton of money away for construction and equipment purposes under the umbrella of arts & culture grantmaking, but there’s a definite need for these types of investments as Boston’s arts sector continues to grow. Not only will the recent Dance Complex grant support renovations, it will also fund a couple of new part-time communications and development positions, as well as hiring a business firm to address issues like programming and fundraising for future projects.

These are also arts strategies that Barr is really tuned into, now, in terms of building capacity. Just look at Barr’s partnership with the Klarman Family Foundation, which awarded unrestricted operating support grants to 31 organizations, along with training and technical assistance.  

At least for now, Barr is accepting grant proposals on an invitation-only basis—for dance and everything else. Dance groups can, however, pitch an informal inquiry to the arts & culture team to get a conversation going.

Another topic that has recently caught Barr’s attention is the intersection of arts and medicine. Dance can play a powerful role in the treatment of physical rehabilitation and mental health, so there could be some opportunities here.