Arts Build Community

Berkshire Taconic launched the Arts Build Community initiative in 2017 to increase community engagement through a key regional asset—the arts and creative sector. With generous support from the Barr Foundation, BTCF is partnering with arts and cultural nonprofit organizations in Berkshire County and year-round residents to test new approaches to community engagement that use the proven power of the arts to build trust, cooperation and unity, while strengthening the arts as a sector.


Community-Based Research: To learn more about creative expression and barriers to engagement in the arts among historically underserved populations, BTCF funded a team of resident-researchers to conduct community-based participatory research via surveys, interviews and focus groups, reaching over 450 Pittsfield residents.

Grants Programs: Grants programs support innovative ideas to increase community engagement through the arts and creative process, especially among communities of color, immigrants, youth and other residents who wish to participate in the arts but face barriers such as cost, transportation and social discomfort. We seek to spur innovation among organizations as they launch new projects, expand existing ones and collaborate for impact.

Capacity Building: A group of arts and culture nonprofit organizations has participated in two intensive, yearlong training programs. The first addressed barriers to participation in the arts and how to experiment with new approaches, and the second was a cross-sector group of 30 county leaders from organizations committed to equity and inclusion.

Arts Education: Berkshire Taconic, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission joined forces to create a shared vision and blueprint for arts education that will ensure equitable access to cultural resources for all students and increase the use of arts-based strategies in student learning.

Donor Engagement: Like-minded donors are learning about our ABC work and exploring ways to strengthen the vitality and relevance of cultural organizations for diverse audiences.

Over 14,000

Full-time residents from historically underserved populations engaged in programming

Over 52

Organizations working to expand knowledge and strategies for serving diverse communities

Over $1.4 Million

Grants and other support to organizations


Gifts from donors to support this work

Why the Arts?

Involvement in the arts and creative process plays a unique role in inspiring people to engage with each other, be innovative problem-solvers and envision a better future. Field research over many years has consistently pointed to the relationship between participation in the arts and the promotion of community connection civic engagement. For youth, in addition to helping them find their voice and develop their critical thinking skills, involvement in arts activities has helped boost educational attainment and reduce juvenile crime rates. These findings should not be surprising considering what often sparks an interest in the arts: openness and curiosity and a desire to feel connected. And the arts provide opportunities for community interactions, collective decision-making, and building empathy and trust.

Community-Based Research & Solutions

One of the hallmarks of the ABC Initiative is its inextricable connection to the local community. From inception, the aim has been to better understand local perceptions and experiences with the arts. BTCF conducted community-based research with a diverse group of more than 450 year-round residents focusing on Pittsfield. The findings revealed that many participants felt little connection to the arts. Some named social discomfort as a major obstacle to participating in Berkshire arts and cultural offerings. Others cited specific barriers to participation: not feeling welcome in arts venues, not seeing their experiences reflected, facing language and transportation challenges, a dearth of family friendly programs, and limited audience diversity. Despite these barriers, most participants wanted the arts to be a bigger part of their lives. These findings informed the initial design of Arts Build Community, and the work continues to evolve with ongoing learning and dialogue. Read more about our community-based participatory research.

  • '62 Center for Theatre and Dance at Williams College
  • Arts in Recovery for Youth
  • Barrington Stage Company
  • Becket Arts Center
  • Berkshire Art Center
  • Berkshire Black Economic Council
  • Berkshire Busk!
  • Berkshire Children's Chorus
  • Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative
  • Berkshire Food Project
  • Berkshire Immigrant Center
  • Berkshire Museum
  • Berkshire Opera Festival
  • Berkshire Pulse, Inc.
  • Berkshire South Regional Community Center
  • Berkshire Tomorrow, Inc.
  • BRAINworks
  • Center for Peace through Culture
  • Central Berkshire Regional School District
  • Chaos Theory
  • Chesterwood Museum, National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Christian Center of Pittsfield, fiscal sponsor for I Am: International Foundation
  • Community Access to the Arts
  • Dalton Community Recreation Association (CRA)
  • Downtown Pittsfield Inc.
  • First Congregational Church North Adams
  • Flying Cloud Institute
  • Goodwill of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont
  • Gould Farm
  • Hancock Shaker Village
  • Images Cinema
  • Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
  • Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
  • Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
  • MassHire Berkshire Workforce Board
  • Norman Rockwell Museum
  • Nutshell Playhouse, Inc.
  • Railroad Street Youth Project
  • Rites of Passage and Empowerment (ROPE)
  • Second Street Second Chances, Inc.
  • Shakespeare & Company
  • Tamarack Hollow Nature & Cultural Center
  • The Becket Athenaeum
  • The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home
  • The Story Sanctuary
  • Triplex Cinema
  • Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, Inc.. fiscal sponsor for The Mastheads
  • WAM Theatre
  • Williamstown Theatre Festival
  • West Stockbridge Historical Society

A group of residents conducted the research that launched Arts Build Community. They continue to participate in the initiative as part of the team reviewing all grant proposals.