Through the General Program, the Foundation explores new ideas and timely opportunities in areas of work that may lie outside of MacArthur's ongoing programs. Each year, the Foundation approaches experts in a wide variety of fields, seeking a few high-impact topics to explore. From this process, for example, has come the Foundation's support for Encyclopedia of Life, a website designed to make available a page for every known living species.
In 2009, the program made grants to improve participation in the 2010 Census both in Chicago and nationally; for Ushahidi, an online communications and mapping tool, which has recently been used to help match relief supplies and services with needy individuals and communities in Haiti; to the Open Net Initiative to document Internet censorship worldwide; and to support many other good ideas to strengthen the Foundation's existing grantmaking directions or to enable the Foundation to contribute to an important, time-limited project.
The General Program supports the Foundation's 25-year commitment to public media. It funds documentary and news programs for television, radio, and web broadcast, especially those that help Americans better understand the rest of the world or that help audiences more deeply understand a public policy issue. In 2009, its support included National Public Radio's news programs, the PBS News Hour, Link Media, and the Chicago News Cooperative. It also expanded its support for a set of nonprofit investigative journalism organizations, all with national reach, including the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity, the Investigative Reporting Workshop, and ProPublica, that help fill an increasing gap in the news media by conducting investigations on their own and in cooperation with commercial newspapers and public radio and television.
Finally, the General Program provides multi-year general operating support to more than 200 arts and culture organizations in Chicago, providing them with flexible, predictable funding that is especially crucial during these economically uncertain times. Support for arts and culture in Chicago in 2009 also included a series of grants under the International Connections Fund to support Chicago-based organizations to strengthen their work through partnerships with organizations in other parts of the world. Grants were made to organizations working in the arts, community development, conservation, and human rights, in support of exchanges with counterparts from across the world including India, Korea, Mexico, and Nigeria — enhancing Chicago's reputation as a global city. In the Arts and Culture Opportunity Fund, a special, one-year initiative, grants were awarded to strengthen organizations led by African American, Latino, Native American, or Asian American directors, with a mission to communicate the experiences of these cultures through the visual or performing arts.