$1 million more directed to boost local arts and culture

The arts community in New Bedford and Fall River is on the cusp of receiving another influx of cash. A million-dollar investment to be precise.

The Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts, which has administered the Creative Commonwealth Initiative grants for the last two years, announced that the Boston-based Barr Foundation is looking to augment that fund over the next three years to the tune of $1 million.

“To receive the funds, the Community Foundation will need to raise an additional $220,000 from local donors,” a press release from the Community Foundation stated.

“Over the past three years, the Community Foundation has taken a very public and leading role in the promotion of the role of arts and culture as essential to the lives of the residents of and visitors to the cities of Fall River and New Bedford.

“From a deep investment in public art that has, in the past year, changed the visual landscape of our cities, to the support of cultural celebrations as diverse as this past weekend’s Fabric Festival in Fall River and Festival Tipíco in New Bedford the previous weekend, to a partnership with area non-profits that is building professional expertise and providing technical assistance, the first phase of the Initiative has been an exciting and impactful effort.”

Over two years, Creative Commonwealth grants have focused on funding public art projects and cultural projects, respectively. Additional funding through the initiative has helped area nonprofits build a stronger foundation to form boards, seek private funding and execute projects.

This new funding will help underpin those efforts, officials said.

“This additional funding will build upon lessons learned over the past three years of the effort,” the press release states. “Specifically, the Community Foundation will be investing more robustly in building the capacity of arts and culture nonprofit organizations in New Bedford and Fall River in order to create long-lasting and sustainable change. The focus of the Creative Commonwealth Initiative will remain on supporting culturally diverse communities, immigrants, and youth in both cities”

The announcement of this extension is the continuation of a 10-year partnership with the Barr Foundation and five community foundations throughout the state including the Berkshire-Taconic Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the Essex County Community Foundation, and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation.

While each community foundation has approached the past two years from different perspectives and through varied outlets, the ultimate goal is the same — to help deepen community engagement with and philanthropic investment in the arts. The initiative is dedicated to building bridges, developing leadership, and helping to create wholistic perception of arts and culture as an integral facet of the region.

“When we began this work in 2017, our shared hypothesis was straightforward: We believe arts and creativity are essential for thriving communities, that community foundations are well-positioned to catalyze more vibrant and sustainable arts ecosystems in the regions they serve, and that community foundation impact can be enhanced through strategies they design and pursue in their respective contexts,” San San Wong, director of arts and creativity and Jim Canales, president, stated in a recent Barr Foundation blog post.

According to John Vasconcellos, president of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts, “This work and the investment from the Barr Foundation is a bold confirmation of the unique role that community foundations play, as match-makers between philanthropists — both locally and outside the region — and the great work that is happening in our communities. Community Foundations understand both sides of that equation and when thoughtful and innovative, can bring significant change, improvement, and investment into our communities. This Initiatives proves that.”

What started with community conversations in 2017 morphed into a two-year pilot phase with over $100,000 raised and over $360,000 directly granted to nonprofit organizations through grants and trainings. Public Art grants in September 2018 made a splash with nearly $200,000 being granted to arts and culture nonprofits in New Bedford and Fall River.

Installations, festivals, and murals brought arts to the streets of Fall River and New Bedford this summer and fall as a result of those grants.

January 2019 launched the beginning of a six-month capacity building series for arts and culture nonprofit organizations. Twelve nonprofits were trained on marketing and branding, finance, fundraising, and more. Shared learning opportunities will continue through the rest of the year.

Two large workshops were offered for free and open to anyone to attend, bringing national arts trainers Arts Midwest and Springboard for the Arts to the Southcoast.

Summer 2019 awarded $111,000 in cultural expression grants to almost a dozen organizations organizing and elevating the artistic expression of some of the cultural and ethnic groups that are often glanced over in the conversation about “mainstream arts.”

The Get Out and Art! Summer Program sought to address the obstacle of transportation and access to youth arts programming. Grants were awarded to the New Bedford Art Museum and Dream Out Loud Center for the Arts to lead their programs on site in community centers at two New Bedford Housing Authority locations.

“The vibrancy of arts and culture in the region is apparent and the impact that the Creative Commonwealth has had over the past year and a half has contributed to a shift of appreciation and investment in the arts,” the press release states. “Accessibility, networking, collaboration, outreach, and capacity have all been amplified amongst our grantees and the community-at-large. The Community Foundation has learned that while key additions can be put in place, community change happens organically. Ideas cannot be forced into neighborhoods and desired outcomes do not take place without input and shared learning.

“The next three years will take a deeper dive into further developing and strengthening the capacity of arts and culture nonprofit organizations; it will build upon the current work with the cities’ youth through Get Out and Art!; it will continue to work with donors to increase local philanthropy and ensure the sustainability of the Initiative; it will offer opportunities for community members to grow with and learn from each other; it will be representative of the cultural and ethnic diversity that makes Fall River and New Bedford unique. This is just the beginning of an exciting and meaningful journey. There is still much work to be done, but the future looks very promising.”

“The Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts has been laying the groundwork for a stronger and more sustainable arts and creativity sector. Their investments in the effectiveness of grassroots arts organizations are already paying dividends in the community,” stated San San Wong.

“The Community Foundation is thrilled to continue this partnership with the Barr Foundation and other funders to grow and sustain investment in arts and culture in the region. Stay up to date on the Creative Commonwealth Initiative by ‘liking’ the Community Foundation on Facebook.”

Original story here.