In Barr's Latest Grants, More Clues About Its New Direction

Earlier this year, Boston’s Barr Foundation announced its new priorities going forward after a strategic planning period that created a lot of jitters among its long list of local grantees. Now, with the recent announcement of Barr’s second quarter grants, totalling $13.3 million, we’re getting a better sense of how these new priorities are playing out.

Here are a few initial observations.

The Arts

Capacity building funding has been a big trend among funders in 2016, especially in the realm of arts and culture grantmaking. Barr’s recent arts grants have been focused on making arts groups more adaptive, relevant, and diverse. It’s doing this through grants to engage diverse populations and reach underserved youth.

There’s also a big push here for risk-taking and experimentation, because that’s what keep the arts so creative after all, especially when it comes to engaging new audiences. The foundation recently awarded four arts grants totaling $1.9 million to groups like West End House and Grub Street. The larger context of all this is the Barr Foundation's big role, along with the Klarman Family Foundation, in a city-wide push to boost the arts in Boston. 

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


Education is the grantmaking area that's seen the biggest changes at Barr. As we've reported, Barr is shifting its ed work in significant ways. It explained its new direction earlier this year, saying the goal is “to connect all students to success in and beyond high school.” Barr said this means, among other things, “broadening the definition of student success to include competencies as well as mastery of academic subjects,” and backing the development of “new high school models and programs that are flexible and conducive to innovation, and that move away from an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach to secondary education.”

Related: Want Kids to Get Jobs? TeachThem to Think: A K-12 Funding Strategy Gains Steam

In the recent round, it committed more money to education than any other program area: 17 grants totaling $9 million, with the biggest chunk of that money—$2.44 million—going to Gateway to College National Network to "strengthen and expand its flagship program, Gateway to College, to Massachusetts and New England." That program is a "rigorous, early-college alternative to traditional high school, and is located entirely on college campuses." Barr's big bet on this outfit shows its new ed strategy is starting with a bang. 

Climate Change Collaboration

Barr’s climate work is focused on "how we generate and use energy" and "how we move around," and the latest grantmaking round underscores that the foundation remains mainly interested in working at the local and regional level—as opposed to operating nationally. In practice, this has translated into funding areas like transportation and urban redesign in Boston, as well as joining other funders in New England working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by speeding the move to clean energy. You see these priorities reflected in Barr's nine climate change grants, amounting to $2.1 million. 


Across all program areas, most Barr grants are funded by staff initiation. But the foundation does accept inquiries from new potential partners too, even with its new strategy. Reach out to the most relevant program assistant via email to describe your organization and funding opportunity to get your foot in the door.