How can arts and cultural organizations continue to present art that resonates with changing audiences?

Barr and Klarman team up to provide cultural organizations the “rainy day” and investment funds they need to be nimble and proactive.

When the bottom drops out of the economy, how can arts and cultural organizations remain as bold as their artists? In the best of times, in time of uncertainty, how can they adapt, manage, and take creative risks that challenge, surprise, and inspire?

Some advise, “Just play it safe until this economy bounces back.” However, as we know from the 2008 downturn, there is no return to normal. Whether it’s changing consumer patterns, unprecedented snowstorms that shut down a city, or investing in a brilliant young artist, cultural organizations need the “rainy day” and investment funds that allow them to be nimble and proactive.

We believe that when arts and cultural organizations are adequately capitalized with the right business model, they can build reserves that let them stay bold, experiment, and weather uncertainty. This is the hypothesis behind one of Barr’s major recent investments in arts and culture. This strategy emerged from extensive conversations with grantees about the kind of support that would be most useful in the context of a changed Boston philanthropic and nonprofit landscape post-2008 downturn, and from a national conversation among arts funders.

In response, in partnership with The Klarman Family Foundation, we made multi-year, unrestricted operating support grants to 30 organizations in three distinct cohorts (two based on budget size and a third based on a shared focus on youth arts). We combined this flexible support with training and technical assistance, overseen by our partner Technical Development Corporation (TDC), on topics identified as priorities by cohort members. These include capitalization, artistic risk-taking, using data for decision-making, building audience demand, audience diversification, and pathways towards youth arts mastery.

Evaluation and Learnings

A formative evaluation during the Initiative’s first three years revealed that a majority of cohort organizations are on track to meet or exceed the financial and other goals they set at the beginning of our work together. We look forward to continued engagement with The Klarman Family Foundation, TDC, and our partner organizations, and to sharing what we’re learning about how to build a stronger, more vibrant cultural sector.