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Why the Boston Cultural Council is making changes to its grantmaking

September 3, 2019

Arts and Culture

Published by:

Arts and Culture

We would like you to know about some changes to our grantmaking process beginning in September.

These changes reflect years of discussion about two important issues: how to deepen the impact of our grantmaking, and how to make the grantmaking process more equitable and inclusive. For the first time, general operating grants will only go to organizations with annual budgets under $2 million. We will also now award grants in established amounts, dependent upon organizational budget. Organizations within the same budget range will receive the same amount of funding. 

The BCC will award up to five grants this year to organizations with budgets of $1-2 million, specifically focusing on those that uniquely serve the City’s arts ecosystem and prioritize cultural diversity, economic diversity, inclusion, and equity, through both their staffing and audiences served. We will no longer be awarding project grants. 

How did this change come about? Over the last year we developed a working equity statement and piloted a Model Equity Organization designation to honor organizations that exemplify the goals and values of that equity statement. We then took a close look at our grant guidelines in the broader context of arts funding in Boston, which led us to conclude the best way to serve the ecosystem is to focus on small and mid-sized organizations. 

Why Small and Mid-Sized?

Over 70% of the arts and culture organizations in Boston have budgets of less than $250,000, and small and mid-sized organizations make up over 85% of arts organizations in our ecosystem. Despite the high number of small and mid-sized organizations in the city, a 2016 study by The Boston Foundation found that "Boston's small and mid-sized arts organizations do not receive significant Foundation support. Foundation giving appears to be skewed toward larger organizations." The same study found that the lack of foundation support puts more stress on small and mid-sized organizations to raise funds through individuals and earned revenue like ticket sales, which drives more risk-averse programming decisions. 

In addition, although they receive comparatively less support than larger organizations, small to mid-sized organizations are often focused on cultural equity work. The same study found that cultural equity is a priority for Boston’s arts organizations, and that “small and mid-sized organizations in particular expressed commitment to addressing issues of social justice, equality, and diversity through their work.” For these reasons, the Boston Cultural Council has decided to focus on small and mid-sized organizations, because we believe these City grant funds can provide a critical service: supporting an equitable arts ecosystem. 

As part of this transition, we aim to better understand the small and mid-sized organizations in Boston and how they can be supported. How do we help organizations grow so that they can take advantage of other funding opportunities? What kinds of capacity building and services can the City provide to help organizations achieve sustainability? At the same time, we are in touch with large organizations who have received grants from us in the past to learn more about how we may offer non-monetary support, and we’ve already generated some interesting ideas. We’re excited to continue this multi-year journey to learn about and better support the arts in Boston, and we thank you for your contributions to the City of Boston’s dynamic and diverse arts sector.

The 2020 grant application closes on October 15. Learn more about our funding strategy and grant guidelines by visiting the Boston Cultural Council website.