Profiles of GIA Members

The Boston Foundation

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 1 (Spring 1998)

Kathleen Cerveny

The Boston Foundation is one of the oldest community foundations in the nation. With an asset base of about $500 million, it makes grants of approximately $20 million each year in the Greater Boston area. For the past four years, the Foundation's discretionary grantmaking has been guided by its Building Family and Community Initiative. This initiative focuses on helping Boston's children and their families overcome poverty.

Through the 1980s the Foundation worked with Boston area arts organizations to establish dedicated funds through which regular core support for these organizations could flow. As a result of this activity, about $2.2 million are granted annually to cultural institutions through donor advised and designated funds.

In 1993 the Foundation actively convened the community to learn about compelling community concerns. These discussions brought to the surface a real need for activity that connected the arts with community. As a result, the Foundation established a new grantmaking focus, the Arts in Community Initiative. This initiative was developed within the guiding principles of the Foundation's community building mission, with a focus on the principles of building on community strengths and assets (cultural institutions), and engaging those directly affected in the heart of the dialogue (collaboration, participation). The initiative ran for three years, from 1994-1996, and put out $750,000 in grants to nineteen organizations. Project support went to non-arts organizations as well as to arts groups.

In 1997, the Boston Foundation went back to the community to explore how it might deepen and broaden the impact of this initiative. At the same time this was taking place, the Foundation was invited by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to participate in its new cultural participation initiative for community foundations. The program Boston has developed in response to the invitation dovetails with its existing interest in this area. Viewing the arts as an essential component of a healthy community, a new initiative will support projects that link artists, institutions, and communities and that expand and deepen cultural participation in Greater Boston.

The Boston Foundation received a grant of $1.2 million from Lila Wallace in December 1997. It will create a $10 million endowment to permanently support the above-mentioned cultural participation and community-building activities. Boston has just begun fundraising for this endowment, after completing a feasibility study for its campaign.