Photo of people gathered at food table for launch of public art in Essex County

Announcing Extension of Partnership with Five Community Foundations Advancing Arts Across Massachusetts

Next three years will focus on implementing ambitious plans and expanding successful early efforts, with $5 million in new support from Barr, and partners’ commitments to collectively raise more than $1 million in new local arts philanthropy.

Today, we are thrilled to announce the next stage of the Creative Commonwealth Initiative and our commitment to extending the initiative for a decade. Launched in 2017, this initiative began as a collaboration with five community foundations in Massachusetts: Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Essex County Community Foundation, and Greater Worcester Community Foundation. Based on progress to date, and in service of the thoughtful, inspiring local plans developed for the 2020 to 2022 timeframe, Barr is providing each community foundation with $1 million in new support. Each community foundation has also committed to raising at least $200,000 in new local arts philanthropy from and for their communities. We expect the Creative Commonwealth Initiative to continue beyond 2022, with a final phase focused on sustaining progress.

When we began this work in 2017, our shared hypothesis was straightforward: We believe arts and creativity are essential for thriving communities, that community foundations are well-positioned to catalyze more vibrant and sustainable arts ecosystems in the regions they serve, and that community foundation impact can be enhanced through strategies they design and pursue in their respective contexts. Barr provided initial planning funds followed by a two-year investment featuring $500,000 in core support to each partner; each partner in turn raised at least $100,000 in new local support. Partners also gathered several times to share knowledge and participate in collective learning.

To date, each community foundation has taken stock of the assets unique to its regional arts and creativity landscape. Each has convened and connected parties in this landscape, helping chart opportunities to advance the constellation of artists, arts nonprofits, public officials, and businesses that link people to arts and creativity. Each is in dialogue with grantees and donors who hold interest in finding new approaches to deepen community engagement in arts and creativity.

These partners remain co-investors in continued growth and change for their organizations—and communities. Each will seek to extend its networks, services, and contributions to the already vivid arts and creativity ecosystem in its region. Collectively, these community foundations are setting out to raise more than $1 million in new philanthropy over the next three years to fuel arts and creativity in their communities.

Barr funds will help them enhance internal capabilities, expand the work of area arts nonprofits, and implement other local priorities. Highlights of individual plans are summarized below.

  • Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation will expand its Arts Build Community initiative, a broad-based partnership of arts and culture nonprofits, schools and students, donors, and residents of diverse incomes, ethnicities and ages. The initiative will deploy over $600,000 in flexible grant support, provide group trainings and leadership development, and build cross-sector coalitions to more actively involve year-round residents in making and experiencing art in their communities, in their schools, and through Berkshire County’s celebrated arts and culture institutions. Learn more.
  • Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts will fund workshops and individualized coaching to advance the capacity of small, culturally diverse/immigrant arts and culture organizations, and support trainings for nonprofits across the area’s arts and culture sector. Continued focus on youth engagement will feature extending the successful Get Out and Art! campaign and expanding partnerships, including the New Bedford Housing Authority collaboration offering onsite access to art making. Learn more.
  • Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, via its ValleyCreates initiative, will continue to strengthen and connect arts organizations and artists through collaborative grantmaking, capacity building opportunities, and convenings, while using strategies that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The community foundation is also planning for an online regional ArtsHub to strengthen, connect, and raise the visibility of the arts sector, as well as an online platform that will highlight grantees and encourages co-investment from donors. Learn more.
  • Essex County Community Foundation will equip the Essex County arts and culture community with knowledge, tools, and funding that strengthens the arts ecosystem. The community foundation will invest in collaborative creative placemaking grants, advance cultural planning in the region, convene the arts community via Arts & Culture Summits and Arts Funders’ gatherings, and build capacity within artists and nonprofits through workshops and “Think Labs” on topics relevant to the arts and culture sector. Learn more.
  • Greater Worcester Community Foundation will support implementation of Worcester’s Cultural Plan, including serving as lead convener, hosting, and coordinating the annual public Community Plan Review; taking a leadership role in advancing specific strategic activities from the plan; and making Creative Spark grants to advance new projects and partnerships aligned with the goals of the plan. Learn more.

As our Arts & Creativity program took shape in 2016, we had the opportunity to expand statewide. We realized that this aim would require capable partners with trusted relationships, credibility, and first-hand knowledge of the varied needs and opportunities in communities across Massachusetts. We viewed community foundations as ideal partners in this effort, and our experience, including evaluation findings in the initial years of Creative Commonwealth, reinforce this view.

We are privileged to be in partnership with a set of local philanthropies who share our conviction that arts and creativity are essential to how people live, learn, and thrive together, who seek to benefit local artists and arts nonprofits, and who are willing to take the risks and welcome the learning that are inherent to growth and change.

We look forward to the next steps in this collective journey, and to providing periodic updates on progress as well as lessons gained through our partnership.

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