Creative City Boston Grant Invests in Artists as Community Leaders

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Pilot program study demonstrates that socially-engaged public art advances equity, transforms public spaces, and engages community.

Boston, MA – The New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) announces the launch of Creative City Boston, a new grant inspired by the Creative City pilot program. This new iteration of the program is funded by a grant of $950,000 from the Barr Foundation.

NEFA released a report and video series on the Creative City pilot program, illustrating the transformative power art can play in civic life and the importance of investing in artists as community leaders. An additional resource is a national field scan, Programs Supporting Art in the Public Realm, by the Animating Democracy program of Americans for the Arts. This field scan of 30 public art programs across the country, including Creative City, highlights approaches and challenges each program faces.  The full report, the national field scan, and a series of videos highlighting artist projects, are available at

Launched in 2015, the Creative City pilot was created by NEFA in partnership with the Barr Foundation to offer direct support for artists to exercise their creative power and elevate the diversity of communities and artistic practices in the city of Boston. Creative City projects extended into Boston neighborhoods, including East Boston, Allston, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, Chinatown, and more, and feature creative expression of many disciplines including theater, music, dance, visual art, and multidisciplinary art.


2017 Creative City Grant Recipient Salvador Jimenez Flores collaborating with youth during the Tortilla Social (taken by Faizal Westcott, provided by NEFA)

 Creative City’s program design tested direct-to-artist investment, bolstered by a community partner organization, combined with a learning cohort model of knowledge sharing and professional development. This model resulted in positive outcomes for the artist, the community partner, the community, and the field at large. Among them:

  • Artists expanded their practice by taking risks, both artistically and as producers of community experience.
  • Art projects were building blocks for transformative community and neighborhood change.
  • Art projects influenced public spaces, conversations, and perceptions.
  • Boston’s diverse communities, cultural expressions, and artists received creative opportunities, spotlight, and resources that advanced the goal of cultural equity.

“Creative City projects activated Boston neighborhoods as public art studios,” noted San San Wong, Barr Foundation’s Director of Arts & Creativity. “Over the last few years, residents from nearly every Boston neighborhood gathered in public spaces to co-create with artists, share cultural stories, and reflect on their neighborhood’s history. We learned that investing in socially-engaged artists is a powerful way to spark dialogue and drive community change, contributing to a stronger city overall.”

“The Creative City model brought to life the artistic visions of artists in public spaces across the city, enabling deep conversations and promoting community imagination,” said Cathy Edwards, NEFA executive director. “We are excited to increase the scale of the program and double the size of the grants we make to artists.”


Photo from Home Town: RePresenting Boston’s Chinatown as a Place of People – Then and Now (2016) by 2016 NEFA Creative City Recipient Wen Ti Tsen (courtesy of NEFA)

Creative City Boston supports Boston area artists to advance their artistic practice, take risks, and further their careers through socially engaged, dynamic and aesthetically impactful public art in the city of Boston. Based on learnings from the pilot, changes to program design will be implemented in this next iteration of the program, including:

  • Increasing grant amounts for both artists (from up to $10k to up to $20k) and community partners (from $1k to up to $5k)
  • Introducing a concept proposal phase to lower the barrier for entry; finalists will receive feedback, technical assistance, and mentorship from advisors and staff prior to submitting a full project proposal
  • Extending the cohort learning model to include both artists and community partners engaged in the awarded projects

In addition to Creative City Boston, NEFA will also:

  • Expand professional development and field-building opportunities
  • Launch the Public Art Learning Fund, a new grant opportunity for artists across New England to pursue professional development opportunities that enrich their public art practice

The application information, including eligibility, criteria, and deadline will be posted on by mid-April, with other initiatives to follow.

Feature Photo Caption: 2016 Creative City Grant recipient Denise Delgado showcases a photo of the Egleston Square Bodega that inspired her Bodega Signs + Wonders community project.

About New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA)
The New England Foundation for the Arts invests in the arts to enrich communities in New England and beyond.  NEFA accomplishes this by granting fund to artists and cultural organizations, connecting them to each other and their audiences, and analyzing their economic contributions.  NEFA serves as a regional partner for the National Endowment for the Arts, New England’s state arts agencies, and private foundations.  For more information, please visit

About the Barr Foundation
The Barr Foundation’s mission is to invest in human, natural, and creative potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts. Based in Boston, Barr focuses regionally, and selectively engages nationally, working in partnership with nonprofits, foundations, the public sector, and civic and business leaders to elevate the arts, advance solutions for climate change, and connect all students to success in high school and beyond. Founded in 1997, Barr now has assets of $1.8 billion, and has contributed more than $911 million to charitable causes. For more information, visit or follow @BarrFdn on Twitter and Facebook.