Supporting BIPOC arts and a more equitable Massachusetts arts sector.

A six-year, capacity-building partnership with 15 community-rooted organizations.

Massachusetts is home to an array of cultures and traditions, and all are essential to a just, thriving Commonwealth. Yet, many groups have been denied access to the resources needed to elevate their voices. The Barr Foundation believes that a vibrant Massachusetts requires an equitable arts sector that uplifts cultural expression in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

Powering Cultural Futures supports this intent through partnership with 15 of the many arts organizations playing critical roles in BIPOC communities. These organizations are prepared to go to a next level of effectiveness and resilience, and to contribute to building a more equitable arts sector statewide.

Key Concepts

In a society that systematically devalues the culture, experiences, and voices of BIPOC communities, Powering Cultural Futures recognizes and honors cultural expression as core to their wellbeing – and, indeed, to our collective wellbeing. These organizations honor creative practices in their communities and support the creation and production of new work; their active engagement with the evolution of BIPOC artforms and aesthetics reaffirms the artistic genius and resilience long ignored or demeaned in American society.

This initiative centers these community-rooted organizations and explores ways that philanthropy can shift power to these actors – placing their needs first, fueling expansion of BIPOC arts via long-term, flexible capital along with technical assistance and network development, and attracting donors to finance these approaches.

The initiative approach embraces research and listening as well as testing, evaluating, and improving ways to provide equitable supports for BIPOC arts. Partners bring a spirit of collaboration, curiosity, and experimentation to this work. All will join in co-designing initiative-level strategies, formulating key learning questions, and exploring ways to bolster the ecosystem serving BIPOC artists and arts organizations statewide.

Lessons, successes, and insights will be shared through BIPOC networks and with the philanthropy field.

The Cohort

The 15 initiative participants reflect a range of ethnic and racial communities, geographies, arts disciplines, and organizational characteristics. Some produce and present art, others are cultural hubs, artist training grounds, or service organizations that integrate art in their programs. Most are small entities; many rely on volunteers to conduct essential operations. All have ambitions to grow their scale of activity in tandem with a sustainable staffing model.

15 Organizations Spanning Across Massachusetts

Map of Massachusetts with green dots on it.

Initiative Elements

Powering Cultural Futures is a Barr initiative that connects and serves 15 organizations awarded grants by the BIPOC Arts Equity Fund of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

Powering Cultural Futures provides means for these community-rooted organizations to build on their achievements in the following areas:

  • increasing access to arts and cultural expression in BIPOC communities;
  • developing networks of mutual support for BIPOC artists; and
  • investing in the evolution of BIPOC artforms and aesthetics.

Over the next six years, each participant can consider and move toward an operating model and scale that matches its aspirations and incorporates factors including its programmatic strengths and ambitions, the hopes and needs of its community, and its mix of human, financial, and organizational resources.

Grants from the Community Foundation provide general operating support as well as risk capital through supplemental funds directed to priority opportunities identified by each participating organization. These financial resources are complemented by access to consultants who can offer advice on revenue models, organizational development, and donor engagement, including perspectives on wealth-building strategies in BIPOC communities. The initiative also features a peer learning network, making space for participants to explore challenges, successes, and ideas as well as engage with arts leaders from outside the cohort.

Eligibility Criteria and Selection

To select the Powering Cultural Futures cohort, Barr first developed eligibility and selection criteria, seeking organizations that:

  • are intentionally rooted in BIPOC communities;
  • are invested in BIPOC aesthetics and artforms, committed to their development and evolution;
  • engage social justice values and principles in arts and cultural programs;
  • have authentic leadership who are part of the same community the organization serves or engages; and
  • have a demonstrated track record of resilience over time.

Barr staff conducted research into community-rooted arts organizations across Massachusetts. Many potential participants surfaced because they received grants from Barr’s trusted intermediary partners to support new work creation, community engagement, and leadership development. Barr staff then held discussions with lead staff and/or volunteer leaders of organizations considered for participation, and invited 15 organizations to join the initiative.

We selected organizations that are not involved with Barr through other initiatives and programs. This brings our Foundation into direct relationship with a new cohort of organizations that represent a broader spectrum of organizational scale. These connections fuel deeper understanding and help improve our efforts to support a more equitable, resilient arts sector.

News about Powering Cultural Futures Participants