A view of Boston's historic Pilot House from the harbor

Matt Conti

From the President

A first message from Barr’s new president and trustee, Jim Canales.

Spring has arrived in Boston and the spirit of renewal is in the air. Whether it’s budding leaves on the trees in the Public Garden, the burst of color from newly-planted flowers around the city, or the palpable energy in the streets as a long and arduous winter recedes, it has felt emblematic to arrive this spring to a new professional home at the Barr Foundation. Indeed, the theme of change and renewal pervades much of Boston right now, with a new mayor, an impending gubernatorial election, and a search for a new superintendent of schools, along with all of the new opportunities that come with such leadership transitions.

At the Barr Foundation we too are concluding our own leadership transition and beginning the process of envisioning the future. Many have asked what changes Barr will make, how quickly we will make them, and how specifically the Foundation’s priorities will evolve. These are fair questions.

My answers are largely informed by what I have observed as an all-too familiar pattern during my two decades in the field of philanthropy: A new leader arrives. Planning consumes the foundation while partners in the field are left confused and uncertain. The former work of the foundation is often dismissed or marginalized as new priorities emerge and long-term relationships with partners in the field come to an abrupt end.

I can commit to you: this will not be our script at Barr.

Change will undoubtedly come to the Barr Foundation and our strategies will surely evolve as we explore opportunities for growth and expansion. However, we will approach this growth and change with transparency and care. As a newcomer to this community engaging with new colleagues and partners, my highest priority in these early days is not to impose new directions, but to listen and to learn. To do so I will draw on the extensive networks that Barr has cultivated over many years and, at the same time, I will complement those networks by engaging with leaders who may not be part of Barr’s universe today.

In my view the best philanthropy often emerges from a spirit of inquiry and curiosity, and it is that approach that will animate how Barr considers its options for the future. At the same time we have no intention of reinventing the wheel. We recognize that there are some tenets about the work of philanthropy that are tried and true:

  • Identifying, supporting, and nurturing talented and visionary leaders is one of the most effective roles philanthropy can play to drive social change.
  • Working in partnership and embracing a collaborative spirit is more effective than going it alone.
  • Investing in building durable institutions—as much as supporting effective programs—is critical to long-term success.
  • Approaching foundation work with a healthy dose of humility that acknowledges the privilege of stewarding philanthropic resources is essential.

In the months ahead I will use this space to communicate about our plans and decisions. You will also begin to see other changes that convey how Barr will evolve. We recently joined Twitter (@BarrFdn) and I invite you to follow our institutional handle, as well as to follow me (@jcanales). We will be adding sections to our website that animate our intention to be more transparent and we will continue to share lessons from our work in the field.

In addition building upon Barbara Hostetter’s recent communication, I offer my thanks to Melinda Marble, who has served as Barr’s interim executive director. As I assume my new responsibilities, I know that I inherit an organization that is stronger and more prepared for change because of Melinda’s leadership and commitment. Her deep and nuanced knowledge of the Boston community, along with her rich experience in philanthropy, make Melinda an invaluable resource, and I am delighted that we will have ample opportunities to work together as she assumes her new role as director of family philanthropy for Pilot House Associates.

I am both honored and excited to lead the Barr Foundation, building on the creative and thoughtful leadership by Barr’s previous executive directors, Marion Kane and Pat Brandes, and informed by the wisdom and vision of Barr’s founders and my co-trustees, Barbara and Amos Hostetter. We are jointly dedicated to ensuring that Barr will realize its full promise and, importantly, improve the lives of many who are touched by our work on educational opportunity, climate change, and arts and culture, as well as our global efforts.

I appreciate the warm welcome I have received from my new community I am delighted to call home and I look forward to meeting many of you in the months ahead.

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