Arts Organizations Deepen Partnerships with Communities

Arts Build Community Initiative granted over $400k in 2023 to local organizations increasing community connection and equitable involvement in the arts.

For the past six years, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF) has partnered with Berkshire’s nonprofit arts organizations to test new ways to engage more deeply with local communities, particularly historically underrepresented groups like low-income, BlPOC, and immigrant communities. This work falls under the umbrella of BTCF’s Arts Build Community Initiative (ABC), which is supported generously by local donors and the Barr Foundation’s Creative Commonwealth program, which is aimed at helping the Massachusetts “creative sector become more sustainable, equitable, and accessible.” In 2023 alone, ABC infused $400,000+ in grants and sponsorships into the Berkshire arts community to expand access and participation and to give voice to formerly untold experiences and stories. Community-based participatory research serves as the foundation for the initiative, which makes the firsthand experiences of community members the roadmap for change.

Since 2017, the ABC Initiative has mobilized over $1.4 million in grants and other support to 51 organizations that have engaged over 14,000 Berkshire residents from historically underserved populations year-round. $250,000 comes from additional BTCF donor contributions to support this work. [Read an overview of the ABC Initiative.]

Long-Term Transformation with Resident Leadership Engagement Grants

2023’s largest grant program was the Resident Leadership Engagement Grants program (RLE), an opportunity extended to organizations that demonstrated a track record of community engagement through the arts and a focus on reaching residents who have been historically excluded. A total of $221,200 was granted to support the work of eight nonprofits, including Barrington Stage, Berkshire Pulse, CATA, Center for Peace Through Culture, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, MASS MoCA, The Mount Edith Wharton’s Home, and WAM. These organizations have implemented programs that have transformed their work internally and in the communities they serve. Grant recipients have launched community engagement programs ranging from accessibility for deaf and low-vision art museum patrons to expanded tuition assistance programs for art and dance instruction and embedding Spanish-language programming in partnership with Latinx communities.

WAM Theatre Tackles Cost Barriers

WAM Theatre is a first-time recipient of a Resident Leadership Engagement grant. The theater will use its $25,000 ABC award to help grow its Radical Ticketing Initiative (RTI), which encompasses sliding-scale ticket pricing, expanding childcare and caregiver stipends for those wishing to attend shows or workshops, and increased travel stipends. They implemented sliding scale ticketing and other accessibility measures in May for the run of “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Molly Merrihew, WAM’s Managing Director, says the community has responded positively to the RTI. No matter what price point, all patrons have access to the best seats in the house. WAM also offers a “pay it forward” option for those patrons who wish to pay more as they are able, thereby giving others more chances to see shows. WAM also utilized the RTI for performances of “Me and The Sky: A Cabaret of Empowering Broadway Hits," a program of songs focused on a full array of women’s stories.

New Ideas Launch with Incubation Grants

For organizations testing out first-time ideas in community engagement, ABC offered Incubation Grants—smaller-scale awards for innovative programs addressing specific barriers to participation in the arts. Second Street, Second Chances, a Pittsfield-based grantee organization, used the award to fund a theater program for formerly incarcerated women as part of their re-entry program. The theatrical co-production, titled RELEASE, culminated in three performances at Berkshire Community College’s Boland Theater in September with over 100 people in attendance. [Read ABC Incubator Spotlight: What it Looks Like When Art Builds Community] Other 2023 Incubation Grant recipients include the Berkshire Museum, Berkshire Children’s Chorus, Flying Cloud Institute, and the Becket Athenaeum.

Learn more about ABC and view the full list of grantee partners.