image from Yo Soy LOLA - LAB Assessment cover

Live Arts Boston: The First Three Years

Live Arts Boston (LAB) was launched in 2017 to support performing artists, groups and small arts organizations in creating, presenting and producing new work for Greater Boston audiences. Conceived in response to recommendations in Boston Creates, the City’s first-ever cultural plan, and a 2016 study by the Boston Foundation showing that philanthropic support for Boston’s performing arts sector was lower than in peer cities, LAB sought to fill identified funding gaps. Notably, support was lacking for small organizations, new artistic work (including experimental, risk-taking work), and work by ethnically and racially diverse artists and reflecting distinct cultural traditions. Now, in the fourth cycle of LAB, we look back on the impact of its first three years—through a comprehensive program assessment and through the reflections of Live Arts Boston artists themselves.

Assessment Partner:

Animating Democracy logo

Funding Partner:

Barr Foundation Logo

Funded Projects At-a-Glance

Over Live Arts Boston’s three-year pilot phase, more than one thousand performances of completed and in-progress works were shared publicly (more than half of them free) in a range of formal performance spaces, ad-hoc venues and in the public realm—the equivalent of one performance per day. Video and audio recordings reached even more people.

Projects and events ran the gamut from folk tradition to avant garde, and elevated particular genres, especially hip hop. LAB support and recognition have helped redress historic gatekeeping by local venues and promoters and the lack of serious attention from the Boston media, arts community and funders.

Through their work, LAB artists built issue awareness and prompted audience dialogue and reflection on issues of police-youth relations, the opioid crisis, the Black experience and disability, among others.

Funded Artists by Discipline chart

LAB Funded Projects by Discipline: 2017-2018

The distribution of performance forms among grantees closely reflects the distribution among applicants.

Spoken Word (1%)   Dance (8%)
Opera (1%) Theater (12%)
Traditional/Folk (4%) Music (27%)
Performance Art (5%) Multidisciplinary (42%)

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1,100 performances over three years.


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70 percent of projects led by artists of color.

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$2.3 million invested in direct grant support.

Types of Venues Used for Performance: 2017-2018

"Other" comprised galleries and artists' studios, community centers (recovery center, emergency shelter, teen center), commercial businesses (hotel, brewing company), schools, a children's hospital, and even a cemetery.

Recording Studios (3%)   Performance Venues and Hybrid Spaces (15%)
Churches (5%) Art Centers (18%)
Museums (6%) Public Spaces/Parks (19%)
Colleges (8%) Other (26%)
Donut graph showing projects by venue type

LAB's Impact on the Performing Arts

LAB investments provided holistic support—flexible funds, professional development, mentorship and networking—that encouraged Boston’s diverse performing artists to take risks and create new work. Artists leveraged LAB dollars to secure additional new funds for their work through a combination of public and private funders, ticket sales and individual donations including crowdsourcing. They also seized the chance to collaborate, to develop entrepreneurial skills, to hire other artists or technical pros and to reach new audiences and supporters.

Madhvi Venkatesh performance: Fish Eyes

"We were able to bring together the Bharata Natyam dance form and the topic of environmental conservation in a unique evening-length production entitled Through Fish Eyes, which incorporated ancient Tamil poetry, an original musical score, novel costumes and props, and innovative visual design.

-Madhvi Venkatesh, Prakriti Dance

"BAMS' LAB grant was at the time we were just building our series of events, really tackling the issues of activating spaces and making sure artists of color had a platform that showcased their quality work. The grant validated all the sweat equity and sacrifices that my volunteer team and I made for the last five years..."

-Catherine T. Morris, Founder, BAMS Fest, Inc.


Live Arts Boston: Advancing Creativity, Equity and Entrepreneurship in Boston's Performing Arts Ecosystem

Since 2017, Live Arts Boston has supported nearly 200 performing artists in music, theater, dance and more, providing well over $2 million in funding in its first three years. This report looks at how that investment has changed the trajectories of the artists and the Greater Boston community, and provides insights into how the program could evolve and grow for greater impact.

The assessment, conducted by Animating Democracy, uses quantitative data and insights from focus groups, grantee interviews and program materials to develop a fuller understanding of the grants and related technical assistance on the careers and skill development of the grantees, and how the program has changed the conversation in Greater Boston about the arts, artists and the city's cultural sector as a whole.

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