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Community Foundations Launch Regional Arts Initiatives

Six months into the Barr Foundation’s Creative Commonwealth Initiative, our partners are creating change across Massachusetts. Here are some highlights on progress, milestones, and impacts of their promising early efforts.

Since we launched the Creative Commonwealth Initiative in January, we have been inspired by the tremendous, thoughtful work of our community foundation partners. Their efforts are already invigorating the arts in their regions, bringing together leaders from the creative and other sectors, and helping arts organizations engage with new audiences – including many who have not, historically, felt that arts in their communities were for them.

Later this year, we’ll have the chance to hear on this blog directly from the Creative Commonwealth foundation presidents. They’ll share about the distinctive approaches they are taking, the impacts their efforts are having, and what they are learning along the way. Until then, we wanted to highlight some of the impressive progress and milestones they’ve already achieved, and how the impacts of their efforts are beginning to play out.

Essex County Community Foundation:

Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF) launched its Creative County Initiative with a highly successful day-long Arts & Culture Summit on April 13. Attended by over 400 artists, arts organization leaders, municipal leaders, educators, board members, and philanthropists, the Summit focused on creative placemaking, cultural planning, and public art. Many colleagues from the Creative Commonwealth Initiative also attended. To further develop regional identity and cohesion, ECCF also developed an online art hub (Essex County Creates) which will be widely promoted this fall, with 100 arts and culture organizations sharing their events and experiences across the county. In late July ECCF announced 11 creative placemaking and public arts grants to cross-sector partnerships in the amount of $300,000. This Fall, sub-regional workshops for municipal cultural plans will be take place and will influence a county-wide cultural planning process in early 2019.

The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts:

The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) planning process led to a deep re-examination of whom CFWM was serving compared to the demographics of its region. This analysis resulted in a focus on communities and organizations who traditionally have not been served by the Foundation and adopting a set of values related to diversity, equity, and inclusion for its ValleyCreates initiative. CFWM also engaged five community advisors with close ties to communities outside its existing networks. In its first year, ValleyCreates will provide:

  1. An organizational effectiveness training series for small arts and creativity organizations;
  2. Planning grants to promote collaborative and cross-sector innovation for arts & creativity organizations; and
  3. A request for proposals for an online hub to foster connection and support for arts organizations across the three-county region.

Greater Worcester Community Foundation:

As part of its Creative Worcester initiative, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation (GWCF) rolled out two new grant programs: Creative Spark and Creative Community Engagement. In response to Worcester’s changing demographics, both programs seek to support projects and organizations that engage under-served populations and amplify under-heard voices. In this first year of the initiative, the Creative Spark grant program awarded over $69,000 in mini-grants to eleven organizations and artists; and, the Creative Engagement grant program awarded $300,000 in operating support grants to five organizations. In addition, in August the Foundation, in partnership with the City of Worcester and the Worcester Cultural Coalition, will begin the process of developing a cultural plan to stand alongside the City’s current master planning process.

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation:

At the end of May, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF), in partnership with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, launched an arts education initiative for arts organizations, public school leaders, and teachers – an idea that had emerged as a priority from BTCF’s planning process. To inform the development and implementation of its grantmaking and capacity-building programs, BTCF has contracted an academic researcher to analyze community-based research on barriers to the arts. Later this summer, BTCF will launch an arts and culture donor affinity group to increase donor engagement with the arts.

Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts:

In June, the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts (CFSEMA) initiated a round of grants in New Bedford and Fall River, specifically seeking projects that would take public art to an exciting new level while engaging youth and amplifying the contributions of culturally diverse populations. CFSEMA received 35 proposals for exciting projects that range from compelling and contemporary murals to festivals celebrating new populations, and that show ideas for engaging communities in innovative and collaborative ways. Grants will be announced in September. Additionally, informed by findings from a community survey, CFSEMA will launch a new Capacity Building series. Community members and leaders are energized by all of the creative possibilities and partnerships for the South Coast.

Our community foundation partners' efforts are invigorating the arts in their regions, bringing together leaders from the creative and other sectors, and helping arts organizations engage with new audiences.

To help launch and sustain these various efforts, and to expand philanthropy for arts and creativity in their regions, two of our partners have already met and exceeded the 20 percent match we set as a condition of Barr’s support, and all are on target to meet that goal. The Creative Community foundation presidents have been such effective leaders in this work, and are already inspiring shifts in grantmaking practices and in organizational culture. These efforts have also elevated their visibility as community leaders, and created new ways for them to engage their board members, donors, and local municipal leaders in creating more vital, vibrant, and engaged communities.

Stay tuned for more from these remarkable leaders on our blog and via our Creative Commonwealth page.

Learn more about Creative Commonwealth

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