East Boston Waterfront

Navigating through a Pandemic

An update on Barr’s continuing COVID-19 response efforts.

In the context of daunting challenges and continuing uncertainty about the course of this pandemic and its implications for our communities, I find myself returning to the adage:

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”

In that spirit, I wanted to share the latest on how we, at the Barr Foundation, have been adapting our efforts in this new context.

We don’t know when this difficult period will end or what awaits on the other side. But the key question guiding our response at Barr right now is: how can that other side be better than what we left behind?

Many have rightly noted that this pandemic has laid bare vast inequities in our society, and we have a rare opportunity now to ensure that we do not merely repair the broken systems that perpetuate such inequities. Rather, we must seize the opportunity to build something better for future generations.

We must seize the opportunity to build something better for future generations.

This is our focus at Barr in response to the pandemic: supporting the work of rebuilding and reimagining in ways that are more just, equitable, inclusive, and fair. Here’s some of what we are doing:

Supporting immediate needs and communities on the front lines of COVID-19

To date, Barr has announced $4.6 million in emergency response grantmaking. This includes contributions to two emergency response funds in Boston, and to other pooled funds established by a set of Massachusetts community foundations. We also provided unrestricted resources to Massachusetts organizations serving immigrant populations on the front lines of the pandemic. We remain in active dialogue with funding colleagues throughout the region to explore other targeted and complementary opportunities to help address immediate needs.

Adapting program priorities in response to grantee needs and our new context

Across Barr, we have sought to be responsive to our current grantees, especially those whose work has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. In my first message to Barr's grantees, I outlined the changes we made to extend new flexibility and support. We will continue these practices for the foreseeable future.

The pandemic has also required us to revisit plans across our core programs of Arts & Creativity, Climate, and Education, as well as our work in Sector Effectiveness and the Waterfront Initiative. While we remain focused on the ambitious goals outlined in each area, we must also account for new realities.

Accordingly, our program teams have been in ongoing conversations with our many partners about what they are experiencing and seeing, and what the most urgent needs and opportunities are. This will be the subject of our trustee meeting in June, and in the weeks to come, our program directors will share more details on our blog about how the larger context is influencing our priorities. Much of this thinking has been—and will continue to be—shaped by ongoing discussions with our many partners, and we are grateful to all of you who have deepened our understanding of a changed context.

Affirming Barr’s commitments for 2020 and 2021

For 2020, Barr had planned on awarding $95 million in new grants—our largest allocation ever. We remain committed to that level of giving, at a minimum, for 2020. We are also initiating our planning for 2021, and I can report that Barr intends to sustain this level of grantmaking as a baseline for the year ahead, regardless of the economic impact on our endowment.

Extending virtual operations

Guided by values that emphasize health and safety of our employees and visitors as paramount, we have decided to sustain remote operations at least through Labor Day (September 7). Later this summer, we will develop plans for the gradual reopening of our offices, based on the latest guidance from public health experts and local and state government officials.

We have also suspended all business travel and in-person meetings, whether internal or external, until mid-September. It is possible that we will extend both remote operations and travel/meeting prohibitions beyond Labor Day, and we will keep you apprised.

As we have done since closing the office on March 13, we will continue regular operations at the Foundation. We have learned over the past two months that the vast majority of what we do at Barr can be sustained in a virtual environment. We, of course, miss the opportunities to be with our partners in person, whether at our offices or at your sites, and we look forward to resuming those in-person connections when it is prudent and safe to do so.

In closing

Like many of you, I have spent the vast majority of my time in these past two months in my home. Despite the physical separation, I remain heartened and buoyed by the many Zoom meetings, phone conversations, and email exchanges with our partners on the ground in communities across the region. The fact that so many have stepped up to this moment—in tireless, selfless, and courageous ways—has been extraordinary. My colleagues and I remain inspired by your dedication and grateful for your partnership.

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