LAB 2021: Shifting strategies to address a year of challenges

April 13, 2021

By Eva Rosenberg, Interim Director, Arts & Culture     

image from Yo Soy LOLA - LAB Assessment cover
Yo Soy LOLA (cover). Photo credit: Vania Jasmin Arroyo 

April is an in-between month in New England, a time when it’s just as likely to hit 70 degrees as it is to snow. In terms of the pandemic, too, this month seems to offer both hope and reasons for caution. But just as I spend my neighborhood walks looking for daffodils and their bright promise of warmer days, I am also finding reasons to be optimistic about the future of our public and communal lives. For me, there is no greater reason to hope than Live Arts Boston (LAB), our program in partnership with the Barr Foundation supporting Greater Boston-area artists to present, produce, and create new work.

LAB has supported more than 250 artists, groups, and small organizations since 2017, and their brilliant work spans genres, performance locations, and themes. The grantees share a spirit of curiosity and appetite for imagining what doesn’t yet exist ­– desperately needed qualities in our work towards a just and equitable recovery. Their work demonstrates the power of the arts to spark dialogue, make sense of suffering, enable healing, reinforce belonging, and foster cultural pride. Fortunately, the 308 applications to LAB this year demonstrate that artists across the region are ready to get back to work. They are a robust pool of applicants, and we can’t wait to share the new class of grantees with the world later in the year. 

Above all, the last year has reminded us that artists are people, and we can best serve them by listening to their needs and responding with empathy, flexibility, and humility. 

At the same time, the Boston Foundation Arts & Culture team has also been attempting to respond to the pandemic and racial justice reckonings by seeking ways to extend our support to current LAB grantees. Above all, the last year has reminded us that artists are people, and we can best serve them by listening to their needs and responding with empathy, flexibility, and humility. We endeavor to let LAB artists’ own experiences and needs guide our work, while also seeking to learn from peer funders to broaden our spectrum of tools and ways of working. We are grateful to colleagues at the MAP Fund, Creative Capital, the Oregon Community Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, 3Arts and the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture/MassArt, who took time to share their experiences with us while we were planning the current cycle of LAB. 

Based on those conversations, insights from colleagues and mentors in the field, and above all, the wisdom of LAB artists, we implemented several changes to LAB that we hope will increase the impact and relevance of the program. We are grateful to our funding partners at Barr Foundation for their enthusiastic support of these shifts, which include:

  • Reallocating a portion of 2021 grantmaking dollars to provide unrestricted $2,500 grants to each LAB 2020 grantee. Artists can use these funds for any personal or professional purpose they choose, and will simply be asked to share how they have spent the money and its impact so that program staff can learn from this experiment.
  • Providing 6-month extensions to 2020 grantees on an opt-in basis. While we recognize many LAB grantees have been able to pivot and expect to complete their projects by the original June 30 deadline, for others that is simply not practical. This offering extends support and deadlines for those who might require an extension to complete their work.
  • Streamlining the 2021 application. LAB’s two-round application process is designed to make the initial application as straightforward as possible. The first round requests higher-level information with more detailed questions in round two. But for 2021, we have removed the requirement for applicants advanced to round two to include a proposed budget. We know that the budget can be particularly stressful for applicants, especially first-time grant applicants and emerging artists, and that it would be challenging to estimate project expenses with so much continued uncertainty. For this reason, we are asking reviewers to evaluate proposals without budgets, and will work with grantees to formulate budgets after they are selected and before they receive funding.
  • Fully funding all 2021 grantees. In a normal year, more than 85% of applicants request the maximum amount of $15,000 in project support, and the great majority of grantees receive funding at this level, with an average award size of around $12,500. However, we know that the same uncertainties that make budgeting difficult are also likely to push up project expenses. For this reason, we will award each LAB 2021 grantee who is selected the maximum of $15,000 to robustly support their projects.
  • Awarding more grant dollars. We are fortunate to have partners who wholeheartedly understand, believe in, and support LAB. To this end, we are proud to announce that the Barr Foundation has awarded $200,000 in supplemental funding for LAB 2021, which will include both new grant dollars and support for 2020 grantees. We have also raised an additional $152,500 (and counting) from generous donors excited about the opportunity to support artists directly and help catalyze new work by investing in LAB. As a result, we will be able to award at least 60 new grants, in addition to the relief grants, which together total over $1 million in funds going directly to artists via LAB in 2021.
We are proud that Live Arts Boston has become such a powerful piece of the Boston Foundation’s grantmaking, and grateful for the partners willing to join us in responsively and holistically supporting LAB artists. We believe that 2021 will see a blossoming of new works from artists that nourish us, invite us to conversation, and inspire us to move toward justice.