Building capacity in the arts to adapt to change.

The Barr Foundation and The Klarman Family Foundation believe arts and culture organizations have the potential to catalyze communities through arts experiences, foster connections across disparate issue areas and personal difference, and add value to the cultural vibrancy, social wellbeing, and creative economies of their communities.

But to meet this potential, arts organizations require adequate capital and adaptive capacity to endeavor organizational change in response to shifts in the cultural sector and the communities in which they work.

The Barr-Klarman Massachusetts Arts Initiative aims to build the adaptive capacity of mid-size arts and culture organizations and grow key partnerships statewide. Barr and The Klarman Family Foundation will make an investment of up to $25 million over six years (2018-2024) in the form of multi-year operating and targeted supplemental grants, organizational skills and knowledge-building activities, technical assistance, and coaching.

The Foundations recognize that with this change mandate with the grantee organizations, the Barr‐Klarman Massachusetts Arts Initiative itself must also be nimble, continuously open to learning, and be iterative in its design.

The Big Ideas

The overarching core pillars for this initiative are financial health, adaptive capacity, and equity, with a focus on racial equity.

Broadly speaking, financial health is rooted in nonprofit behaviors and practices that support annual operating surpluses, pay equity, and strong capitalization. BKMAI focuses on understanding capitalization, the accumulation and application of resources on the balance sheet to support the achievement of an organization’s mission over time. Its absence, undercapitalization, is one of the most pervasive barriers to organizations developing adaptive capacity and addressing organizational inequities. With improved capitalization, organizations are able to allocate resources as needed.

A chart of three connected circles that represent the three ideas core to the initiative.

Change demands an organizational practice centered on continuous learning and evaluation, and a cohesive vision and strategy that aligns board and staff. This organizational practice is an adaptive capacity, a set of skills and competencies that bolster an organization to take bold steps in response to external or environmental conditions.

Equity means the systemic fair treatment of all people, across group identity, that leads to equitable opportunities and outcomes. Prioritizing equity is a way to address disparity of resources (i.e., money, power, access, and human resources) and how those resources are structurally allocated to marginalized communities. Marginalized communities may be based on (but not limited to) race, ethnicity, abilities, socio-economic status, gender, and sexuality. There is an urgent need to address equity with a focus on racial equity in arts organizations and in the sector overall. We believe that equitable arts organizations are able to be more adaptive and relevant to diverse communities.

A cohort of 29 arts organizations

Representing diversity across artistic disciplines, geographic reach, stages of organizational development, and budget sizes, the 29 organizations participating in the Barr-Klarman Massachusetts Arts Initiative are:

Organizations are participating from across Massachusetts

Figure 1

How were the organizations selected?

To select the initiative cohort, Barr and The Klarman Family Foundation first developed a set of eligibility and selection criteria based on our experience with the first Barr‐Klarman cohort – factors that we felt were important to an organization’s ability to participate and benefit fully from this type of initiative. Paramount to the following eligibility and selection criteria was a demonstrated commitment to participating in and contributing to the initiative learning agenda.

Eligibility criteria:

  • 501(c)(3), not fiscally sponsored
  • At least five years old
  • At least two full-time permanent employees
  • Operating budget of $350K to $10M
  • Satisfactory financial health position and diversity of revenue
  • A developed artistic point of view

Selection criteria:

  • A strong articulated artistic point of view
  • Clear articulation of the organization’s financial status
  • Current strategic direction and past experience that demonstrate a capacity for adaptation
  • Strong leadership and engagement from board
  • Senior leadership that has a point of view regarding community impact and seeks relevancy to multiple constituencies, such as audiences, neighbors and community, and national colleagues
  • Fit with other cohort members and geographic diversity

The databases of the Cultural Data Project and GuideStar – which contain financial information reported to the IRS and organizational information – were used to identify eligible arts organizations in Massachusetts.

This is a Closed Program

The selection process for this six-year initiative is now closed and we will not consider additional applicants.

Key components of the initiative

The initiative design includes the following components:

  • Multi-year general operating support grants
  • Individualized strategy coaching
  • Cohort-wide learning and knowledge sharing, including annual convenings, networking, and trainings focused on the core pillars of the initiative
  • Supplemental grant funds targeted for specific capacity building
  • Active staff and board participation

All components are iterative, informed by ongoing learning and evaluation. Along with convenings and informal conversations, annual check‐ins between grantees and the Foundations serve as opportunities for grantees to provide feedback on the initiative’s learning and support services, relationships with the Foundations, and potential impact within their communities.

About the Barr-Klarman Partnership

The Barr Foundation and The Klarman Family Foundation first partnered in 2012, in response to pressing issues in the cultural sector in Boston through the Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building Initiative. Over five years, the Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building Initiative supported two cohorts of mid-sized arts and culture organizations and youth arts mastery organizations through multi-year grants, training, and technical assistance totaling $22 million. The Boston-based initiative focused learning in: the role of effective capitalization; diversifying audiences; defining and achieving mastery outcomes with youth; and growing cultural competency and proficiency.

An extensive evaluation was completed at the conclusion of the Boston-based initiative, offering important learnings for the Foundations and participating organizations, many of which related to the importance of capitalization for arts and culture organizations, particularly when trying to adapt artistic practices and businesses in the face of changing audiences and stakeholders.