Partnering with community foundations to strengthen arts and creativity across Massachusetts.

Cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth are full of creative talent and cultural assets that have the power to inspire us, challenge us, and bring us together. Yet, depending on geography, art form, or networks, access to funding can be uneven—as can opportunities to experience arts and creativity.

In 2017, Barr began the Creative Commonwealth Initiative, investing in five community foundations as partners in a journey to strengthen resources for local arts ecosystems across the state. Their leadership and commitment to boosting equitable, diverse arts and creative expression in the regions they serve led to expansion of the initiative to span ten years, with three additional community foundations joining the partnership in 2023.

Why Community Foundations?

Barr invests in community foundations as cornerstone institutions in their regions. These place-based philanthropies hold unique potential as civic leaders and catalysts for positive change. They have knowledge, relationships, and credibility to help infuse arts and creativity into civic life. They can convene organizations across sectors, bring new information and insights to decision makers, raise public awareness of key issues and opportunities, attract donors to generate new funding, and spur collaborations that center arts and culture in community.

Each community foundation in the Creative Commonwealth cohort embraces diversity and is growing its capacity for inclusive practices. These attributes are especially vital given significant demographic changes in the areas they serve, which are characterized by a density of arts organizations, including African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American nonprofits, and are home to significant immigrant populations. Progress by community foundations in these regions can in turn help the statewide creative sector grow its relevance, resources, and resilience.

Creative Commonwealth Geography

Initiative Participants and Service Areas

Map of Massachusetts with different colors highlighting eight regions of the state.

About the Partners

Design & Timeline

Design & Timeline

The Creative Commonwealth Initiative was created to elevate the Massachusetts arts field and Massachusetts philanthropy. Pursuing these goals features a dual focus on:

  • Arts in communities—advancing diverse arts and creative expression that are visible, integrated, valued, and supported in cities and towns across Massachusetts.
  • Community foundations in arts—supporting these local philanthropies as they strategically and effectively enhance their leadership for arts and creative expression.

To achieve these outcomes, Creative Commonwealth has evolved into a ten-year initiative. An initial cohort of five community foundations began this journey with Barr in 2017; three additional community foundations joined the partnership in 2023.

Initiative Timeline

CCW Timeline

Creative Commonwealth is led by the Barr Arts & Creativity program team, staffed by a consulting team with extensive experience in arts and the U.S. community foundation field, and designed through a collaborative process involving Barr and the participating community foundations. This co-designed initiative incorporates a mix of Barr supports:

  • Grants to fund the local arts initiatives created by each community foundation, and to address internal capacity-building priorities in each organization
  • Individualized strategy coaching for each community foundation provided by members of the consulting team
  • Cohort-wide learning and knowledge sharing—including periodic convenings as well as ongoing networking and interaction among peer groups of chief executives, arts program leads, and donor development and communications staff

Barr supports are delivered in ways that align with the program and development strategies forged by each community foundation team. These partners each generate a Theory of Change to articulate and guide their arts and creativity work.

As the initiative moves into its sustainability phase, community foundations are building their resilience as adaptive leaders; amplifying their voices, connections, and influence as arts champions; investing in ways to strengthen the structures and activities that enable arts and creativity to flourish in their regions; and cultivating new donors and long-term funding sources to increase financial assets for arts.

Upcoming years will feature new and deepened investments, experiments, and learning to advance more equitable, vibrant, and sustainable arts and creativity in communities across Massachusetts.

News and Ideas from Creative Commonwealth Partners