Arts Build Community

Arts Build Community Initiative

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation has launched the Arts Build Community initiative to increase community engagement through a key regional asset—the arts and creative sector. With support from the Barr Foundation, BTCF is partnering with arts and cultural nonprofit organizations 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.

  • Learning from Research: To learn more about creative expression and barriers to engagement in the arts among underserved populations, BTCF funded a team of resident researchers to conduct community-based participatory research via surveys, interviews and focus groups, with a diverse sample of over 450 Berkshire residents. Read a summary.
  • Launching New Grants: The initiative’s grantmaking component supports new ideas to increase community engagement through the arts and creative process, especially among lower-income residents, communities of color, youth and immigrants. BTCF seeks to spur innovation among Berkshire County arts and cultural nonprofits and community organizations that present significant arts and cultural programming as they launch new projects, expand existing programs and collaborate with other organizations. Grants total more than $500,000 to date.
  • Strengthening Nonprofits: A group of seven arts and culture nonprofit organizations in Berkshire County participated in an intensive yearlong training program with a curriculum designed to help them address barriers to participation in the arts, experiment with new approaches and foster resource-sharing. Participating organizations were: Berkshire Museum; Community Access to the Arts (CATA); IS183 Art School of the Berkshires; MASS MoCA; the Mount, Edith Wharton's Home; Shakespeare & Company; and WAM Theatre. Funding was allocated to pilot projects or technical assistance sponsored by the participating nonprofits.
  • Expanding Arts Education: BTCF, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission joined forces to create a shared vision for arts education that will ensure equitable access to cultural resources for all students, increase the use of arts-based strategies in student learning and create paths to employment at cultural institutions.
  • Engaging Donors: Like-minded donors are learning about BTCF's work and discussing ways to strengthen the vitality of cultural organizations in Berkshire County. Contribute to this work

2021 Grantees

'62 Center for Theatre and Dance at Williams College: $3,750 to collect Williamstown community stories for Grey Matter TV, an upcoming television series that will take a critical look at the town’s history and amplify the voices of Black and Indigenous residents, and other people of color. Grey Matter TV is the vision of Williamstown-born performance artist Sacha Yanow and community organizer Bilal Ansari.

Barrington Stage Company: $7,500 to support Black Voices Matter, a creative platform that will feature digital reflections of the Black Lives Matter movement by local artists, a series of short online plays that address Black culture and concerns, and an outdoor summer festival in Pittsfield’s West Side neighborhood that will celebrate artists of color.

Berkshire Museum: $7,500 to plan art, science and community programs for residents who feel disconnected from the region’s environmental and cultural institutions. The initiative aims to advance the role that artists can play in building sustainable communities. Partners include Berkshire Natural Resources Council, City as Living Laboratory, Living the Change, and Word X Word.

Gould Farm: $3,750 to host a series of two-week artist residencies to provide therapeutic workshops that will help guests with mental health challenges move toward recovery and independence.  

Hancock Shaker Village: $4,000 to engage area youth ages 13-17 in an immersive, arts-based experience at the museum that will explore issues of community, equality and identity. Partners include Roots Rising, Rites of Passage and Empowerment (ROPE), and Barrington Stage Company’s Playwrights Mentoring Program.

The Mastheads: $4,650 to launch a series of four poetry-writing workshops for West Side teenagers and adults that will lead to the creation of a collaborative film to ultimately inform community development in the Pittsfield neighborhood. Partners include Roots Rising, the Westside Legends, the Christian Center, and several West Side organizations.

The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home: $2,500 to produce a Spanish-language audio tour and other translated materials to create an engaging and welcoming experience for the local immigrant population, in collaboration with the Berkshire Immigrant Center.  

Tamarack Hollow Nature & Cultural Center: $2,350 to host a spring drum festival that will give Berkshire County residents the opportunity to experience West African music, songs and culture through in-person and online classes. 

WAM Theatre: $4,000 to reach young people and communities of color through a digital community engagement project for its fall production of “Kamloopa: An Indigenous Matriarch Story,” which will bring together a cast and crew of Indigenous women and women of color.

Center for Peace through Culture: $12,000 for Arts 4 Us: Activating Cultural Networks to create a deep and relevant relationship between the arts and cultural organizations in the Berkshires and year-round residents. The objectives of this work are to activate community members, artists and leaders by developing relationships with community organizations working with underrepresented populations and to build a team of ambassadors from within the local community who will continue to promote, inspire and connect residents, providing access and information to the arts and cultural organizations.

Mahiawe Performing Arts Center: $12,000 to promote inclusion and access to events for Latinx communities on an ongoing basis in partnership with Volunteers in Medicine. The Mahaiwe’s Spanish-language Community Advisory Network (SCAN) will be an eight-person committee of Berkshire County residents creating a line of communication between Spanish-speaking communities and the Mahaiwe, with committee members helping to design programs and acting as performance ambassadors. The project will offer both free Spanish-language films and free tickets to English-language programming, and will lay the groundwork for a 2022 Spanish-language event that we hope will bring together an audience well-represented by both Latinx and non-Latinx audiences alike. The network will provide a framework to serve the cultural and social needs of individuals within Spanish-speaking communities, especially those who are recent immigrants.

Mass MoCA: $12,000 to expand MASS MoCA’s Community Advisory Network. This initiative gathers a diverse cohort of local residents to develop deep relationships between the museum and our community. Beyond simply removing transportation and financial barriers, CAN addresses issues of belonging and inclusion by growing trust through intentional relationship-building. MASS MoCA is expanding CAN to include greater representation from North Adams, representatives from the mental health and substance abuse prevention sector, and additional connections within the local African American, Asian American, and Indigenous communities.

BTCF is supporting 10 arts and culture organizations in a yearlong Inclusive Leadership as a Force for Change cohort led by BRIDGE. The 2021 inaugural group is guided by best practices in justice and equity as well as cultural competence.

  • Chesterwood
  • Community Access to the Arts
  • IS183 Art School of the Berkshires
  • Jacob’s Pillow
  • Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
  • Mass MoCA
  • The Mount, Edith Wharton's Home
  • Norman Rockwell Museum
  • Shakespeare and Company
  • WAM Theatre

2020 Grantees

Arts in Recovery for Youth (AIRY): $7,500 to reduce risk factors for youth suicide through expressive arts leadership roles for teens and young adults who face multiple barriers in society.

Berkshire Opera: $3,000 to film a performance of "Don Giovanni" to be broadcast on the Pittsfield Community TV as an alternative to physically attending the performance and as a means for reaching new potential audiences in the greater Pittsfield area.

Berkshire South Regional Community Center: $7,244 to help local elementary school and middle school students gain an appreciation for STEM activities through art projects in partnership with the Flying Cloud Institute.

Chesterwood/National Trust for Historic Preservation: $6,700 to enagage a diverse audience through the story of the making of the Lincoln Memorial.

Downtown Pittsfield Inc.: $1,100 to hire ambassadors for the First Fridays Artwalk to reach new participants and help them feel comfortable during the event.

IS183 Art School of the Berkshires: $2,914 to host an Open Studios Day that will bring together a diverse group of artists.

Tamarack Hollow Nature & Cultural Center: $4,060 to offer low-income youth, adults and seniors the opportunity participate in cultural drumming workshops and classes.

WAM Theatre: $7,500 to expand its ensemble work into disenfranchised populations and devote these ensembles to the subjects of suffrage and citizenship. 

A group of seven arts and culture nonprofit organizations in Berkshire County participated in an intensive yearlong training program in 2019 with a curriculum designed to help them address barriers to participation in the arts, experiment with new approaches and foster resource-sharing.

In response to the far-reaching impact of the pandemic on many local arts organizations, Berkshire Taconic's Arts Build Community initiative provided $20,000 to each of these nonprofits for general operating support and technical assistance in 2020:

  • Berkshire Museum
  • Community Access to the Arts
  • IS183 Art School of the Berkshires
  • The Mount, Edith Wharton's Home
  • Shakespeare & Company
  • WAM Theatre

2019 Grantees

Center for Peace through Culture: $7,050 for Arts 4 Us, a pilot project to provide guided, personalized family visits, including transportation and meals, to the Norman Rockwell Museum or Jacob’s Pillow for families from Crosby Elementary School in Pittsfield, where 71 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

Community Access to the Arts: $7,500 to launch a comprehensive communications strategy to reach students with disabilities and their families in seven Berkshire public school districts, part of a long-term plan to deepen engagement with CATA families—many of whom are low-income and not actively engaged in cultural activities.

Downtown Pittsfield Inc.: $7,500 to boost attendance at First Fridays Artwalks among school-age children and their families through increased, targeted marketing to lower-income residents, communities of color and immigrants.

Goodwill of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont: $3,450 for Building Community through the Arts, a pilot project to engage artists in reclaiming a vacant storefront and other underutilized spaces on Tyler Street in collaboration with organizations that serve youth and immigrants.

IS183 Art School of the Berkshires: $2,210 to host a Learning through the Arts Family Art Engagement Day aimed at removing the barriers of transportation, language and the feeling of not belonging in the arts community, and increasing participation in IS183's studio programs and events among public school families.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center: $6,500 for the New Communities Project, a partnership with multiple nonprofits to bring underserved audiences to live performances by headlining artists, and to learn about barriers to participation from those audience members through focus groups and feedback.

MASS MoCA: $4,500 to develop a formal, sustainable model for collaboration with community partners through a Community Advisory Board that will ensure relevance of programming with local community members and more meaningfully serve them.

Railroad Street Youth Project/Jacob’s Pillow Dance Apprenticeship: $5,500 for a six-week series of professional workshops focused on exposing young people to dance and turning a passion for dance into career opportunities.

Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area: $7,500 to actively involve the immigrant community in planning and programming for the Westside Riverway Park, which will open in 2020 to serve the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Berkshire County.

WAM Theatre: $7,500 for the Intergenerational Initiative, designed to bring together younger education program participants and the older patron community for collaborative performance and volunteer opportunities.

Berkshire Museum: $9,500 to bring art to children in Berkshire County schools by providing museum educators as substitute teachers with mobile museum displays, which will be placed in public spaces when not in the classrooms.

IS183 Art School of the Berkshires: $7,500 to attract artists of color, including immigrants and teens, to participate in IS183's expanded open studio programs to practice their craft and engage with fellow artists.

Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival: $9,500 to support and expand Pittsfield Moves!, a coalition of community groups, organizations, residents and artists that creates dance experiences relevant to community members and driven by community needs.

MASS MoCA: $9,429 to establish Art-tastic Families, a yearlong partnership with North Adams Public Schools and the Berkshire Department of Children and Families that extends arts-based programs to families on the weekends and during school breaks, and also provides opportunities for social workers to experience art and develop strategies for a healthy work-life balance.

The Christian Center of Pittsfield: $10,000 to collaborate with the I AM: International Foundation to implement a series of workshops that encourage young people to explore personal and group identity by creating self-portraits.

Williamstown Theatre Festival: $9,500 to engage residents in Florida, Savoy, and Windsor—the most rural parts of Berkshire County—in the creation of community theater projects by providing transportation.

Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative & Youth Alive: $12,000 to engage young women of color directly in the filmmaking process for a video that shares their inspirational stories as participants in Youth Alive’s mentoring program.

Berkshire Food Project & Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts: $5,970 to transport and guide lower-income residents to theater performances and museums; host monthly concerts during Berkshire Food Project’s free community meals; and print a recipe book that raises awareness of the importance of connecting lower-income residents to the arts.

Berkshire Pulse & Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires: $15,000 for Moving Life Stories, a dance program that fosters the inclusion and integration of local immigrants into the Berkshire community.

Dalton Community Recreation Association & Community Access to the Arts: $5,341 to host intensive, multi-week arts workshops for people with disabilities.

Flying Cloud Institute & WAM Theatre: $5,050 to engage underserved Pittsfield girls in an exploration of the biases women face in STEM fields through a unique theatrical experience and a series of workshops with a local history scholar and performance artists.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center & Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires: $7,500 to bring low-income individuals, immigrants and people of color to the Mahaiwe for live headliner performances and matinee broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and the Bolshoi Ballet through free tickets, group seating, transportation, child care or child care reimbursement, and welcoming receptions.  

Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area & Westside Legends: $15,000 to support a series of community sessions that will focus on uplifting and representing the history and artistic culture of Pittsfield’s Westside, with the goal of defining resident-supported projects to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.

WAM Theatre & Multicultural BRIDGE: $12,500 to support a new Immigrants Ensemble that will create an original theatrical performance on the subject of suffrage along with a Teen Ensemble (comprised of participants ages 13-18) and an Elder Ensemble (comprised of women over 65).

Williams College & North Adams Public Schools: $7,000 for Let’s Dance!, a program that introduces elementary students to ballet and modern dance over two 15-week sessions with Williams dance faculty.



In January 2018, BTCF received funding from the Barr Foundation for a two-year program to support the arts and creativity sector as part of Barr’s statewide Creative Commonwealth initiative. Creative Commonwealth brings together the largest private foundation in Massachusetts with five community foundations throughout the state who recognize the power and importance of arts and creativity, and the vital role community foundations can play to bring more strategic and sustainable investments in the sector. In 2019, BTCF announced that its partnership with the Barr Foundation will expand through a new $1 million investment.

For more information on the Arts Build Community initiative, contact Emily Bronson, senior community engagement officer for initiatives and special projects.


The Center For Peace Through Culture has received funding for an ambassador program helping to welcome diverse communities to arts institutions such as the Norman Rockwell Museum.