The Barr Foundation is a Boston-based private foundation created in 1987 by telecommunications billionaire Amos Barr Hostetter, Jr. and largely endowed from the proceeds of the $10.8 billion sale of Continental Cablevision to US West in 1996. The Foundation is characterized as “left-leaning” by media reporting. 
Until 2010, Barr Foundation grants were reportedly given anonymously. But in 2010, the foundation announced a five-year, $50 million series of grants supporting environmentalist groups advocating to combat climate change. Since then the foundation has become an increasingly visible presence in Boston grantmaking. “You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t credit the Barr for its enormous largesse,” reported Boston Magazine’s Patti Hartigan, “as the left-leaning charity funds causes that are dear to the city’s liberal residents.” 
In 2013, the Barr Foundation hired James E. Canales, CEO of the California-focused left-of-center James Irvine Foundation, to be its first president. Canales, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Greg Donovan, was hired “to craft a strategy to put the Barr Foundation in a position to become a national leader on issues such as combating climate change, a longtime priority of the foundation.” 
The Barr Foundation’s giving takes place in three primary areas: the environment, public policy issues in the Boston area including transportation and education issues, and education reform.
In 2018, the Barr Foundation joined almost 30 foundations pledging $4 billion in funding over five years to support environmentalist advocacy surrounding climate change, along with the Hewlett, Kresge, and Packard Foundations; Bloomberg Philanthropies; and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The pact, issued at the Global Climate Action Summit, said, “as climate philanthropists, we are committed to supporting the vast array of solutions required to solve this global problem.” The grants would be used to “catalyze action at the national and local levels, and support the movement made up of millions of people fighting to protect the air they breathe and the communities they call home.” 
Among the environmentalist groups receiving Barr Foundation grants in 2017 were the Conservation Law Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, Smart Growth America, the New World Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the Sierra Club Foundation. In addition, the liberal political magazine American Prospect received $150,000 for articles on “transportation, access, and greenhouse gas reduction.” 
Most of the Barr Foundation’s environmental funding supports research about the effects of climate change in the Boston area. In 2016, the foundation funded “Climate Ready Boston,” a report issued by the city of Boston that warned that, if nothing were done, the likelihood that Boston would be subject to massive flooding would increase “from a 1 percent annual chance to a monthly reality.”  The Barr Foundation then issued a $500,000 grant to implement the findings of the report.
In December 2017, Barr Foundation president James Canales announced that the foundation had spent $120 million on climate change-related environmental funding through that date and was planning to spend $5 million in 2018 on research on climate resilience, with the goal of ensuring “that climate resilience is integrated and institutionalized across various sectors, such that it becomes an essential consideration in how we plan for the future.” Among the goals of this funding were to “build awareness of climate impacts, risks, and resilience strategies” and to “mobilize key constituencies to advance policy and implement resilience plans.” 
While the “Climate Ready Boston” report called for the construction of a seawall to protect Boston harbor, the Barr Foundation also funded research by the Sustainable Solutions Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Boston that said that it was not feasible for the seawall to be constructed before 2050, in part because of the lengthy delays expected before permits could be issued for seawall construction. The laboratory’s director Paul Kirshen said that advocates of a seawall “would be making a bet on a massive infrastructure project with limited benefits” and it would be better to support less costly measures to strengthen harbors against rising waters. 
In 2017, the Barr Foundation, collaborating with the MacArthur and Kresge Foundations and the Wallace Global Fund, funded a report by Health Care Without Harm urging hospitals to spend more money on climate resilience, including planning for possible climate disasters and reducing “emissions in ways that also increase resilience.” 
The Barr Foundation is also working with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) to lobby ISO New England, which supplies energy to the Boston area, to reduce its use of conventional energy and increase use of wind and solar power. 
Polling commissioned by the Barr Foundation repeatedly shows that people in the Boston area consider transportation a problem and more government funds the solution. A poll the Barr Foundation commissioned in March 2019 found that 38 percent of those surveyed found traffic congestion an increasing problem and 75 percent thought that highway improvements should be a major priority for politicians. 
The Barr Foundation has co-operated with the center-right think tank the Pioneer Institute, as Barr Foundation co-director for climate Mary Skelton Roberts was one of the judges in the Institute’s 2019 Better Government Competition, which the institute says “rewards some of the nation’s most innovative public policy proposals” for making government more cost-effective. The winning proposal, from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, concerned getting young people interested in transportation careers. 
In education, the Barr Foundation’s emphasis is on helping children who are having a hard time succeeding in school. In 2018, the foundation supported a report by the consulting firm EY-Parthenon that found that 18 percent of Boston high school students in the 2015-16 school year were “off-track” and unlikely to graduate and that 90 percent of these “off-track” students were either black or Latino. 
Also in 2018, the foundation, collaborating with the Joyce and Walton Family Foundations and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, supported a report from the education nonprofit TNTP that found that students spent 500 hours, on average, each year dealing with inappropriate assignments or assignments that didn’t challenge them. 
In June 2019 the Barr Foundation gave a two-year, $600,000 grant to the Boston Globe, which the newspaper said it would use to hire an editor and a team of reporters to look at successful and unsuccessful education programs. The newspaper said the Barr Foundation would have no control over what education topics the newspaper would pursue with the grant.