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Three-year evaluation finds Live Arts Boston strengthening Greater Boston arts sector, particularly for artists of color

Reviewers find LAB has expanded access for grantees, created “multiplier effects” that support, strengthen equity in the region’s arts ecosystem

October 15, 2020

Learn more and download the report at TBF.org/LABimpact

TBF and Barr Foundation logos

Boston – An in-depth review of Live Arts Boston (LAB) demonstrates that the program has had a strong positive impact on the arts ecosystem in Greater Boston, the Boston Foundation announced today. The program, launched in 2017 as a partnership of the Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation, was assessed by Barbara Schaffer Bacon and Pam Korza, co-directors of Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts.

In their analysis, entitled Live Arts Boston: Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Equity in the Performing Arts, Schaffer Bacon and Korza evaluated the design, process and impact of LAB during its first three years of grantmaking, from 2017 to 2019. The researchers used surveys, interviews and focus groups with grantees and analyzed grantees’ final reports to document the impact and evolution of LAB since its inception. During that time, LAB provided $2.3 million in 186 grants for performing artists, groups and organizations to create or produce new works. Seventy percent of the grants went to projects led by artists of color.

“Through LAB, the Boston and Barr Foundations are creating positive disruptions in grantmaking and in Boston’s cultural ecosystem,” said Schaffer Bacon and Korza in the report. “By crossing racial, geographic, social, economic and cultural boundaries, LAB artists are helping to shape a new narrative for Boston.”

“In its first three years, the Live Arts Boston program has provided millions of dollars in direct investment and capacity-building supports for a growing network of performing artists, lifting up new voices and making more visible a broader swath of arts and artists,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “These grantees, in turn, are reinvesting the money in their work and their communities, paying fellow performers and presenting new works to expanded audiences. LAB catalyzes a virtuous cycle that lifts up a diversity of new voices and fosters much-needed equity within the arts community.”

LAB: A powerful design, evolved

Competition for Live Arts Boston grants has been strong throughout its existence. The program received more than 800 applications for its 186 awarded grants in its first three years. Over time, the program has broadened its offerings beyond grants alone to include extensive technical assistance and support services for grantees. In addition to grants of up to $15,000, grantees now receive supports including business skill-building workshops, access to a team of Live Arts Boston staff, mentors and advisers, videographers who can document their work and participation in a cohort of artists working across disciplines with whom they can learn, collaborate and network.

Over the course of the three years, the program became even more intentional in its efforts to address historical funding imbalances and advance a commitment to racial equity, by explicitly prioritizing support for artists of color and artists who are immigrants or new Americans. Highlighting that priority in the applications expanded the pool of artists who applied and received grants. Overall, 70 percent of grantee projects were led by artists of color, and a full one-third of the grantees were artists who had never before applied for a grant of any kind. LAB leveraged its network to bring diverse panels of artists and arts leaders together, too, to serve as application reviewers, vesting decisionmaking power with individuals reflective of the communities the program aims to serve.

From left to right: gold-colored graphic of 4 people, text below it says "70% of projects led by artists of color." Gold-colored graphic of a bag with a white dollar sign on it, text below it reads "###PLACEHOLDER###.3 million invested in direct grant support."

The diversity of the artists was not limited to race. Nearly half of grantees said their works crossed disciplines, and grantees used a wide array of venues to present their work, from public parks and churches to art centers and performance spaces.

Measuring impact on artists and the arts ecosystem

Providing artists with “risk capital” in the form of LAB grants encouraged artists to broaden their visions of the possible, while giving them opportunities for collaboration, administrative and business skill development, and a platform for connecting with new venues and established institutions.

Meanwhile, the evaluation found that the grants themselves are helping to reshape the narrative of Greater Boston’s artistic community, particularly around the issue of paying artists and others who support grantees’ artistic work. The evaluators found that in the first two years of the LAB program, grantees paid out over half of their awards to other artists for commissions, collaborations and rehearsal and performance compensation. The effort to provide grants directly to artists, rather than as a pass-through via organizations, also helped reduce overhead costs.

Among the LAB 2019 grantees, the singer-songwriter Anjimile has consistently praised his LAB grant for making possible the new album Giver Taker, released last month. “Without the grant, I wouldn’t have had the funds to record with highly skilled producers and engineers, or to hire additional instrumentalists,” he said. “Because of the LAB grant and subsequent record deal, I am several giant steps closer to achieving my goal of kickstarting my music career on a national scale.”

Other artists noted that their grants leveraged new partnerships for them, allowed them to devote more time to their crafts, and served as a validation for their work moving forward.

Overall, the evaluators found that Live Arts Boston is helping to shape a new narrative of equity, innovation and entrepreneurship that uplifts arts and culture as critical elements of a diverse, vibrant and vital city and region. 

Moving forward

The evaluators found both a rationale and support for continuing Live Arts Boston beyond its three-year pilot. However, they also recommended several opportunities for continued growth. They include:

  • Increasing professional development by expanding partnerships with other arts and cultural institutions, and by strengthening networks of artists of color and communities of practice in LAB’s areas of interest.
  • Strengthening data tracking and reporting, while developing better metrics for measuring progress on LAB outcomes and impacts.
  • Leveraging multimedia and digital assets, as well as providing support to grantees as part of a broader effort to inspire envisioned philanthropic investment and the perception of Boston as a truly vibrant and inclusive city. 
  • Cultivating new philanthropic investors and champions for the work.

The Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation have committed to the continuation of the Live Arts Boston program, with a fourth year of grants in 2020. The report can be accessed online at tbf.org/LABimpact, which also includes links to information about the 2020 grantees and program.