Investing in organizations to pursue an artistic risk.

What does artistic risk look like? What kind of support is needed to allow organizational risk taking?

In 2012, Barr and the Klarman Family Foundation launched the Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building Initiative. Its goal was to strengthen the long-term financial health of a group of 30 Boston-area arts organizations. Over five years, the foundations provided unrestricted operating grants, complemented by training and technical assistance on topics the organization leaders identified as priorities. Along the way, they grappled with the question:

  • What’s the capital structure that best supports our mission, and that enables us to be nimble and adaptive to a changing environment?

The resulting discussions lead to an exploration of organizational and artistic risk-taking, particularly what it meant to experiment with new ideas, ways of working, cultural expressions, and ways of reaching different audiences. What are the ways that artistic risks can manifest?

So as part of the Initiative, the foundations also established an artistic risk fund, with the purpose of providing risk capital for projects that would take organizations out of their comfort zones, that had potential to change how they worked.

Seven Stories of Taking Artistic Risks

To document the journey and impact of the seven projects that were funded, we commissioned a series of videos. Each video centers on one organization and, through the eyes of its leaders, tells the story of their organization, the risk they pursued, what happened, and what they learned. We hope their stories engage and inspire you as they did us, so that others might pursue (and support) more of this kind of work.

The Theater Offensive

The Theater Offensive knows that Boston’s dream of being a thriving city can never become reality without the creative vision of the city’s artists. Yet, as TTO engaged and listened to their community, a challenge for local artists became clear–in Boston, space for creation is limited. Fair pay for creative work is difficult to come by. Mentorship opportunities are few and far between. When TTO had the opportunity to apply for artistic risk funding, they knew immediately what to do–create Boston’s first-ever residency program for LGBTQ artists.

Learn more about their story on our blog

The Theater Offensive’s Mission is to present the diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer lives in art so bold it breaks through personal isolation, challenges the status quo, and builds thriving communities.

Hyde Square Task Force

With the flexibility afforded by their artistic risk grant, the Hyde Square Task Force dreamed of something they had never tried before. Uniting all three of its arts programs, HSTF youth co-produced, co-directed, and co-wrote an original musical. The show, El Barrio, took Boston’s Latin Quarter of yesterday and connected it with the Latin Quarter of today, celebrating Afro-Latinos for their contributions to the arts, and for their role in shaping such a proud and culturally rich community.

Learn more about their story on our blog

Hyde Square Task Force has been working for more than two decades to develop the skills of youth and their families so they are empowered to enhance their own lives and build a strong and vibrant urban community.

The Boston Center for the Arts

Boston Center for the Arts is a visual and performing arts campus whose mission is to support working artists to create, perform, and exhibit new work; develop new audiences; and connect arts to community. Yet, the majority of programming in its iconic Cyclorama has not actually been arts-related. And the organization has come to depend on the rental income from the many private and corporate events they host there. With funds to support an artistic risk, the BCA seized on the opportunity, commissioning a large scale, site-specific performance piece, using sound, light, movement, and video to harness and enliven the unique architecture of the Cyclorama.

Learn more about their story on our blog

Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) is a not-for-profit performing and visual arts campus that supports working artists to create, perform and exhibit new works; develops new audiences; and connects the arts to community.

West End House

At the West End House Boys and Girls Club, many kids have the opportunity to take lessons and develop great artistic skills that they enjoy and are proud of. Pianos have long been tried and true. So are guitars. To engage young people in a different way, and to activate their creativity, West End House took a risk on a new approach – purchasing audio recorders, headphones, and iPads, and challenging a small group to discover to their city in ways they never had before.

Learn more about their story on our blog

West End House is an innovative and vibrant youth development agency that ensures that young people are succeeding academically, exploring and mastering the arts, developing career readiness skills, and adopting healthy lifestyles.

The Institute of Contemporary Art

When The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston (ICA) adopted their new strategic plan, "A Radical Welcome," it signified an opening for diverse voices, perspectives, and roles in shaping the future of the museum. The ICA welcomed a group of artists—representing a variety of disciplines and backgrounds—to serve on an Artist Advisory Council, offering their unique perspectives and helping the ICA live its mission of sharing the art of our time. This project represented a different type of risk: an opportunity for the ICA to see itself through the eyes of artists.

Learn more about their story on our blog

Global Arts Live

As presenters of dance and music from around the globe, Global Arts Live always had a measure of control. They provided a showcase for artists to perform, offering control over the quality and audience experience by selecting works that had been developed and proven successful elsewhere. With the support of an Artistic Risk grant, they ventured into the commissioning world and experimented outside of their comfort zone. Global Arts Live commissioned Alonzo King of LINES Ballet and tabla virtuoso, Zakir Hussein, to create an original dance and musical performance.

What would they create? How might this risk change them?

Huntington Theatre Company

The Huntington Theater wanted to take its experience working with deaf actors and American Sign Language (ASL) and do something bold: adapt Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie entirely in ASL so the deaf community could experience the nuance and emotion of the performance in the same way hearing audiences had for years. Although the project never came to fruition, what they learned in the process about deaf audiences, ASL, and the challenges of similar translations will help them engage in more meaningful ways with the deaf community for years to come.

Learn more about their story on our blog