Teens are performing outside in a musical. They are holding up their arm and making a fist.

The Real Work Persists

In this year-end blog post, Jim Canales reflects on 2021 and previews Barr’s plans for the year ahead.

It was six days into 2021 when we witnessed the horrifying insurrection at our nation’s capital. As we bring this year to a close, the images of that day seem so long ago and far away. And yet, the sentiments that fueled that unprecedented attack persist, as does the ongoing quest for accountability. The implications of that day will surely remain with us as we turn the page to 2022.

And, indeed, we must not ignore those implications: for our commitment to racial equity, for the promise of that “more perfect Union” enshrined in our Constitution, and for how we live out our shared humanity. All of this must continue to animate the work we do across Barr, in partnership with so many others.

We may not characterize Barr’s work as a “democracy funder”, but at the heart of our mission—to invest in potential across the arts, climate, and education—lies the assumption that our democratic system actually functions, in its many manifestations.

And yet, the way in which 2021 started should deeply trouble us all, as it rendered most explicitly what had long been implicit. It must remain our shared work to battle the intolerance and hatred made manifest on that day, to counter the destruction—physical and moral—of our democracy, and to confront the blatant disregard for human rights for all.

So, as we look toward a new year, which often brings with it opportunities for reflection and resolution, we seek to turn the page in a way that invites us to reinvent, rebuild, and revitalize.

As we look toward a new year...we seek to turn the page in a way that invites us to reinvent, rebuild, and revitalize. Tweet This

Many have observed, and I happen to agree, that we must not—and cannot—go back to how things used to be, which we know were not equitable, were not just, were not inclusive. We must shape a new reality together.

And we will.

Through Barr’s website and blog, we aim to share what we are doing, the lessons we are learning, and the impact being driven by our partners. We remain grateful to them for their leadership, vision, dedication, and tenacity, in the face of the many headwinds that 2021 continued to bring.

As we turn to 2022, I offer a few organizational updates that will surely inform our continued work at Barr:

  • We will conclude 2021 having awarded over $122 million in new grants, another all-time high for Barr. This represents a 35% increase from grants awarded in 2020, and we are grateful to the many partners who will use these resources in ways that create tangible change and advance progress on our shared priorities.

  • For 2022, our board of trustees has approved a grants budget of $140 million, a 15% increase from this year’s grantmaking, and more than 55% above 2020 grant levels. This continues the growth trajectory we have been planning for.

  • As we grow Barr’s grantmaking, we continue to expand and enhance our team. In the past few months alone, we have welcomed three new colleagues: Najah Casimir as program officer in Climate; Jules Faña as communications coordinator, a new position; and Julie Rosen as senior accountant. In January, we will welcome Kathryn Wright as senior program officer for Climate, and we will initiate a search for a new program officer in Arts & Creativity. We have plans for additional staff in 2022, which we will share as the year unfolds.

  • In March 2022, we will initiate our formal return to Barr’s new hybrid workplace, circumstances permitting. We will do so marking two full years as an all-remote operation. With the arrival of spring, and its promise of renewal, we will start shaping new hybrid work practices for Barr. As we do so, we greatly look forward to seeing many of you as the year unfolds, shifting from our 2-D Zoom existence to in-person, human interaction, which we have greatly missed.

  • In the opening months of 2022, we will also share our annual “year in review”, but, this time, with a look back at the past two years given the decision last year to forgo the project due to the pandemic. We will explore how our work has unfolded with a deepened commitment to racial equity over these past two years, and we will share how we plan to look to the future in new ways.

As we turn to 2022, we do so with lingering uncertainties: about the trajectory of the ongoing pandemic, about the seriousness with which all of us will directly address the ongoing challenges of racial inequality and systemic racism, and, even, about the state of our very democracy. But, rather than be discouraged, we are called to redouble efforts to do the vital work ahead.

As a former high school English teacher, I often turn to inspiration from literature, and in this case, poetry. As we look to the work ahead, I leave you with the words of poet Wendell Berry, reminding us of the nature of “real work”.

Our Real Work
Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

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