High Tide Greenway by Matt Conti

A Milestone Year

Jim Canales shares highlights from the first year under Barr’s new strategies and announces increased grantmaking for 2017.

Beginning with new strategic directions and concluding—as announced last week—with the largest authorization of grants ($73.5 million) in our history, 2016 has been a milestone year for the Barr Foundation.

At our last board meeting of 2016, Barr staff and trustees reflected together on progress, challenges, and priorities for the year ahead. I am pleased to share just a few of the highlights of progress this year, with gratitude to a great set of partners:

Arts and Artists Engaging Community

In our Arts & Creativity program, we supported several initiatives focused on the role of artists as community leaders with the aim of deepening public engagement. In Boston, support to ArtsEmerson sponsored artist residencies that engaged the larger community, and a partnership with the City of Boston embedded artists in city departments and agencies through the Artist-in-Residence program. Barr also supported the active engagement of artists in Boston Creates, a city-wide cultural planning process. Throughout Greater Boston, the new “Creative City” partnership with the New England Foundation for the Arts funded artists to integrate public participation into their artistic process or presentation.

New Policies, Practices, and Plans to Prepare for a Changing Climate

Through our Climate program, several of our partners played vital roles in the enactment of new public policies in Massachusetts that will accelerate deployment of renewable energy, increase jobs in the clean energy sector, and further drive down greenhouse gas emissions. Also contributing to emissions reductions are smarter efforts in Massachusetts cities and towns to enhance mobility and livability, such as redesigned streets, new bike lanes, and improved public transit. Finally, just last week, the City of Boston released Climate Ready Boston, a comprehensive study and blueprint to ensure that Boston is fully prepared for the ongoing impacts of climate change. All of this work continues to position the Commonwealth as a leader in climate action.

Connecting Students to Success in High School and Beyond

In Education, out of our new strategies, we launched a first major, multi-year initiative focused on supporting high-quality, student-centered schools and programs explicitly designed to serve students who are currently off track to graduate from high school. We have been heartened by the tremendous interest across New England, and we look forward to the responses to our recently-issued request for proposals. We will award our initial grants in this initiative in 2017, and are excited to be expanding options for students underserved by our current educational system.

Taking the Long-Term View of Boston’s Waterfront

This year, we also launched a new Special Initiative focused on creating a great public realm throughout Boston’s waterfront, with the goal of ensuring that we protect and steward this treasure for generations to come. In 2016, we supported planning work by multiple public and nonprofit partners who share this ambitious goal, and we are setting the stage for additional investment in 2017 and beyond. I will have more to report on this signature initiative in January.

These are just a few highlights in what was a full and productive year, enabled by the inspiring and committed leaders we are privileged to support. Yet, we know there is much more to do on all of these fronts. And we enter 2017 even more resolute in Barr’s mission to invest in potential, serving as stewards and catalysts.

We know there is much more to do on all of these fronts.

Toward that end, at our board meeting last week, Barr’s trustees approved a grants budget of $80 million for 2017, a 9% increase from 2016. This represents our commitment to build on the progress of 2016, and it acknowledges a different context for our work.

As many have noted in recent weeks, we are entering a period of change and uncertainty for many of the issues at the core of the Foundation’s work. Yet, amidst this changing context, what emerges with clarity is the imperative of a vital and robust nonprofit community to uphold and protect the values of a civil society, among them an abiding respect for diverse people and perspectives, and commitment to open, informed discourse.

All of the issues we focus on at Barr—whether connecting more students to success, advancing climate solutions, or elevating the arts and creativity—depend on these values flourishing. And as our partners adjust to new realities, we realize we too must stay flexible and nimble, even examining how our own core assumptions and strategies must evolve to be most effective.

We remain committed to elevating the values we hold dear as a civil society.

In all that we do, we remain committed to elevating the values we hold dear as a civil society. Indeed, this may be more critical than ever before, both to continue forward progress on the challenges before us and to ensure all people can share in that progress. With confidence in our collective determination to step up to these challenges, we stand ready to be partners in this vital work.

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