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

We recently highlighted Barr’s support for climate change work on the local level, but certainly that’s not all the Boston-based funder is up to these days. The foundation also has a robust and growing local arts portfolio. A new city-wide initiative called Boston Creates was recently launched, and it's been a big priority for Boston’s mayor who has expressed his desire to create an arts renaissance in Boston. Barr is a key player in this effort. 

Before getting into the details, let's consider the bigger picture: A growing number of foundations see the arts as a key driver of urban renewal and vitality. Quite apart from the intrinsic value of the arts, a vibrant cultural sector in a city can drive economic growth, foster civic engagement, and serve as a magnet that draws people to urban life. We've written a lot about ArtPlace America, a national collaboration backed by over a dozen foundations that's at the center of some of the most exciting things happening around the arts and creative placemaking (not all of which is city-centered, by the way). As well, we've written about what specific foundations are doing on this front, most notably Knight and Bloomberg. 


Barr is defintely among those funders on the forefront of this important arts push. Not only is it one of the backers of ArtPlace, but it's been deeply involved in trying to orchestrate a new arts renaissance in Boston. 

Boston Creates formally launched in June. Right now, the program is in the “community engagement phase” with public meetings to tap into what locals really care about. Barr partnered with the Klarman Family Foundation to establish the cultural plan, initially funding research about what other cities are doing to create a model for Boston.  

Both Barr and Klarman committed $700,000 each to Boston Creates to support early planning work. There’s a consulting team synthesizing the feedback and drafting up a game plan. Barr’s end goal is June 2016, which is when Boston will host the Americas for the Arts Annual Convention.

Along with a few other funders, Barr has supported MassCreative, which has helped the sector get organized and form a more collective voice. MassCreative played a very influential role in elevating the voice of the arts sector during Boston’s mayoral race, and it still does today.

All of the mayoral candidates, including Martin Walsh, put together an arts platform, creating the first cabinet-level arts committment in decades. Supporters of the program include the Boston Foundation, Hunt Alternatives, the Miller Innovation Fund, the Barr Foundation, and the Klarman Family Foundation.

And if that wasn’t enough collaboration for you, Barr has started working with Bloomberg Philanthropies on an initiative with John Kerry’s folks on a global city-to-city tour. We don’t know all the details yet, but we do know that Boston will be one of those cities, and we're hoping to have more details by October.

So to summarize, the arts in Boston are enjoying a rare time in the spotlight, with a mayor and cabinet leaders fully embracing the potential of this sector. And the role of funders is a great example of trends in art philanthropy we've been writing about for the past year. None of this has gone unnoticed elsewhere. National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu recently visited Boston to meet with local leaders and see parts of the city where the arts have propelled community revitalization. She and Jim Canales also wrote a Boston Globe op-ed together.

As we've reported, Barr has been working through a strategic planning process since the arrival last year of a new president, Jim Canales. Some things remain under discussion and the foundation is still in a transition period. We’re hoping to learn more about where Barr grantmaking is headed next with the arts and everything else by early 2016.