Arts & Creativity

New Directions for Barr’s Arts & Creativity Program

Adapting boldly. Spanning sectors. Activating public support.

It’s an exciting time for the arts in Boston—filled with forward momentum and opportunity. Three years ago, during the Boston mayoral race, artists, arts organizations, and engaged allies mobilized, lifted their voices, and called for greater support for the creative sector. This set the stage for Mayor Walsh to appoint Boston’s first cabinet-level arts chief in decades and to invite thousands of Bostonians to chart an inspirational course for their city through Boston Creates.

Additionally, over these years, through the Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building Initiative, a cohort of arts and culture organizations have grown stronger and better capitalized to take artistic and organizational risks. And, through our partnership with ArtPlace America and creative placemaking investments in places like Upham’s Corner, Chinatown, and The Greenway, the arts are giving voice to residents, fostering economic development, and enlivening neighborhoods.

In this context of change and optimism, and with a mandate to articulate an ambitious goal, strategies, and priorities for the next phase of Barr’s work in this sector, last year, our Arts team entered into a period of strategic planning. We reflected carefully on the Foundation’s work and learning to date, on key trends in our sector (which I wrote about in this post) that are giving rise to distinct opportunities for philanthropy, and on how best to focus geographically.

As Jim Canales, Barr’s president, previewed in his post “Stewards and Catalysts: Barr’s Next Chapter,” this led us to a new goal for Barr’s Arts & Creativity program: to elevate the arts and enable creative expression to engage and inspire a dynamic, thriving Commonwealth—a goal we will pursue through three strategies: advancing the field’s capacity to adapt, take risks, and engage changing audiences in new ways; fostering opportunities to connect the arts to other disciplines and sectors; and activating public support for the arts.

A new goal for Barr’s Arts & Creativity program: to elevate the arts and enable creative expression to engage and inspire a dynamic, thriving Commonwealth.

To learn more about these strategies and how to share ideas with us, I encourage you to visit our new Arts & Creativity strategies page. For the remainder of this post, I would like to discuss three key changes from Barr’s approach to investing in the arts in recent years.

The first change is in our name—from “Arts & Culture” to “Arts & Creativity.” This shift reflects our intention to be more expansive, to invest in bold ideas, and to forge new partnerships with different sectors. We also recognize that the phrase “arts and culture” can evoke ideas of elite art forms disconnected from some people’s lives. In contrast, “arts and creativity” is more inclusive of the diverse (and often informal) ways people engage with the arts and creative expression to connect with their passions, their loved ones, and their communities. By naming our program “Arts & Creativity,” we hope to likewise evoke and advance these ideas of connection and transformative power.

Another change is in geography. Historically, Barr’s arts grantmaking focused solely on Boston. Going forward, we will engage with high-performing partners across Massachusetts and work to strengthen the connections among them. As cultural policies and financing options are developed and enacted at the state level, we believe that stronger organizations and more engaged communities across the state will benefit advocacy efforts for the arts. We will also participate in targeted opportunities in New England and nationally that bring intellectual and financial resources to Massachusetts and that provide platforms to share the effective work being done here.

Finally, our work to date has focused principally on strengthening arts nonprofits. While we will certainly continue this work, we will also invest in building critical, new connections with other sectors, bringing new allies into efforts to foster a culturally vibrant Massachusetts. We believe that integrating arts and creativity into other sectors will increase the resources for and the sustainability of the arts sector, and it will demonstrate the power of the arts in creative problem-solving.

We know that great art transforms how we engage with the world. It brings beauty into our lives. It gives us ways to express ourselves and make sense of the world around us. It enables us to imagine new and better futures. With so much creative potential all around us, we could not be more excited to enter into this next phase of work, in partnership with colleagues ongoing and new.

View our Arts & Creativity strategies

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San San Wong

E. San San Wong

Senior Program Officer, Arts & Creativity