A Look at a Unique Arts Collaboration Between Boston's Biggest Funders

The Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation are the two biggest names to know in the world of Boston philanthropy, which is why we keep close tabs on their grantmaking. 

At the start of the year, we published "Barr v. TBF: How Boston's Two Big Funders Compared in 2016," in which we compared the funders’ grantmaking side-by-side. One is a community foundation and the other is a private foundation; however, they share a few common interests. A big one is arts and culture, a funding area where there's a lot of happening in Boston right now, as we've reported. 

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

More foundations in Boston, large and small, have started seeing arts as a driver of economic growth and civic engagement. Meanwhile, arts groups in Boston have been enjoying a rare period in the spotlight, with Mayor Marty Walsh making arts a major priority of his administration, with the support of local leaders from other sectors. Philanthropy has been playing a key role. Arts and culture was the biggest grantmaking category for TBF last year. Although the bulk of most recent Barr grants went to climate change, arts and creativity came in second. The Barr Foundation has collaborated closely with the Klarman Foundation in this area, as we've reported. Both are key players in Boston Creates, the public-private partnership launched in 2015 that's spearheaded the creation of a cultural plan for Boston—attracting quite a bit of controversy along the way. 

RelatedThe Klarman Foundation Emerges as a Major Cultural Player In Boston

More recently, Barr joined forces with the Boston Foundation to collectively award 60 grants to performing artists and arts groups in Greater Boston as part of a program called Live Arts Boston (LAB) that launched in October. TBF took the lead and provided $500,000 in grant money. Barr added an additional $250,000 to bring the collaboration total to around $750,000 thus far. More grant money is set to flow in a 2017/2018 round of funding. 

All of these grants are project specific, and up to $15,000 in size. This is all about public art and performing arts projects. There has also been a big show of support for women artists. On a related note, Barr put out a job posting for a new arts & creativity program officer on February 23, and one of the responsibilities of the job will be the Live Arts Boston program, which so far remains a pilot program.  

Something else unique about this collaborative program is that it isn’t just supporting arts organizations. Individual artists are already reaping the benefits of this TBF/Barr collaboration, as well. TBF’s Allyson Esposito introduced Live Arts Boston in this video, which tells more about the program. Live Arts Boston was created directly from feedback provided through the cultural planning process of Boston Creates, which revealed that more support was needed for artists as individuals and collectively, as well as small arts nonprofits in the area.

These are the areas of interest that TBF and Barr have been looking at: dance, theater, spoken word, performance art, circus arts, and music (new music of any kind/genre, including new contemporary classical and new contemporary chamber music, experimental, avante garde, jazz, folk, popular, rock, blues, and global/world). Multi-disciplinary combinations of these fields are considered as well.

In the past, some nonprofits in Boston have complained that Barr and TBF end up calling way too many shots regarding which organizations win support. So it's significant that this effort is based on some serious listening. The grantmaking here also tracks with larger themes we're seeing nationally with arts funding, with lots of attention lately to enlivening public spaces, bringing artistic performances into communities, and looking for new ways to support the individual artists who form the backbone of any truly robust urban arts scene.

To some, such efforts are long overdue in the city. “Boston is a marvelous city full of history,” said Rose Kennedy Greenway’s public art curator Lucas Cowan, “but it’s been about 30 years behind a number of other cities, like Philadelphia and Chicago, when it comes to contemporary public art.”

Grantseekers can learn more about the eligibility requirements and review process here. Dates, times, and locations for upcoming information sessions will be posted by August 1 for the next opportunity with this program. The next application deadline will be November 15, with final decisions made by late January.