Vital Communities Grant Guidelines


The Chicago Commitment team invests in people, places, and partnerships to advance racial equity and build a more inclusive Chicago. The Vital Communities focus of the strategy draws on these three elements to support a diverse and resilient metropolitan area.

Chicago is a global city with diverse neighborhoods and a strong civic culture. And yet the city and metropolitan region suffer from structural racism that produces unequal access to resources and opportunities for communities of color. Systemic conditions that prevent equitable access to opportunities and resources have led to racial and economic segregation and unequal rates of economic mobility. These factors ultimately affect the overall vitality of the Chicago region; they are especially pervasive in neighborhoods with majority Black and Latinx populations.

We believe that a dynamic metropolitan area is dependent upon equitable community development. The Vital Communities focus of the Chicago Commitment’s work stimulates development in historically marginalized neighborhoods by making early investments in response to community needs that contribute to economic growth. We support place-based economic development, creative placemaking, and placekeeping initiatives to improve the quality of life for individuals in neighborhoods that have experienced disinvestment. We also support organizations whose research and analysis informs socially-beneficial and equitable development.


Place-Based Initiatives

Place-based initiatives address the unique characteristics and needs of people within a specific location. We will concentrate resources primarily on pre-development of commercial corridors and industrial clusters outside of Chicago’s downtown areas. In light of Chicago’s history, our place-based funding is likely to be concentrated in predominantly Black and Latinx populations and/or neighborhoods facing threats of population displacement. Other historically marginalized communities and neighborhoods affected by segregation and other forms of systemic racism will not be excluded from eligibility. These initiatives may include comprehensive planning; land use planning and management; community outreach; or urban design that attracts commercial and industrial real estate investment.

We believe that seeding early investment in commercial corridors and industrial clusters, particularly when responsive to community needs, can jumpstart a sustainable foundation for comprehensive community and economic development that is locally owned. It can also position place-based initiatives to seek larger investment opportunities, such as public funding, tax incentives, and other philanthropic and corporate investment strategies. In general, Vital Communities will not focus on one specific development or provide funds to close a single deal; rather it will invest in the general capacity of the leading organizations to enable them to undertake the necessary range of revitalization projects underway in each corridor, industrial area, or initiative. 

Grants will be made to community-based organizations engaged in economic development to produce socially beneficial development deals. These awards will facilitate the pre-development of commercial corridors and industrial clusters, when grant funds are necessary to explore a wide variety of financing options. These organizations will have a record of community planning, prior experience in development, and the capacity to support new projects. 


Creative Placemaking and Placekeeping

Creative placemaking and placekeeping are place-based community and economic development tools that use art and cultural activities to animate public spaces, rejuvenate structures and streetscapes, improve local business visibility and public safety, and bring people together to build a shared understanding of culture and community.

We support creative placemaking and placekeeping initiatives to spur economic growth in historically marginalized neighborhoods, in communities that have experienced disinvestment, and in low- or middle-income places where the current population is at risk of displacement.

In 2019 the Foundation, in partnership with LISC, announced the creation of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Creative Placemaking Award as part of LISC’s annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA). The CNDA application process has surfaced dozens of projects in Chicago area neighborhoods in which organizations use arts, culture, and creativity to transform their communities. Grant candidates will be sourced from the CNDA applicant pool, along with organizations identified by external nominators (see Selection Process below), and organizations that submit a brief description of their work through our grants portal.


Infrastructure Support Organizations

Over decades, our support for neighborhood initiatives has underscored the value of investments in local and regional infrastructure support organizations that, in turn, provide organizational development support to individual neighborhood efforts. The forms of organizational development support may include planning, management, policy research, evaluation, data analysis, or other services offered to groups working at the community or regional level. We have also learned that it is cost-effective to spread the expense of these forms of support across many neighborhood efforts. As such, we will continue to provide strategic support each year to a selection of these organizations, while exploring opportunities with other funders to provide coordinated support to the field.


What We Fund

For place-based initiative awards, we support places that have:

  • community assets and the potential to attract commercial real estate or industrial development;
  • experienced historical marginalization;
  • community engagement in designing development plans that strive to build on community assets and anticipate unintended consequences, such as displacement;
  • organizations or other entities with a record of community planning, prior experience in development, and the capacity to support new projects; and
  • been nominated by a diverse group of advisors who serve as external nominators of promising place-based initiatives.

For creative placemaking and placekeeping awards, we support projects that:

  • effectively address a community purpose, issue, or need;
  • bring residents together to make social, physical, and economic changes in their neighborhoods through arts and culture; and
  • enable greater access for communities to participate in and benefit from artistic or cultural activities, particularly where few such activities exist.

For infrastructure support organizations, we support:

  • entities that conduct planning, management, policy research, evaluation, data analysis, or other forms of organizational development support to groups working at the community or regional level.

Application Process

Initiatives and organizations that wish to be considered as placed-based initiatives, creative placemaking and placekeeping projects, or infrastructure support organizations may submit a brief description of their work through our grants portal.

In addition, we are eager to learn about initiatives and organizations that have not previously received support, as well as gather new ideas from prior grant recipients.

Selection Process

To augment MacArthur Staff's knowledge of placed-based funding opportunities, from time-to-time we will invite civic and community leaders with broad and varied knowledge to nominate place-based initiatives from across the region. The nominators, who may not recommend organizations with which they are affiliated, serve to broaden our knowledge of the range of local opportunities. While this process will produce more nominations than we can support in a single year, it is designed to bring place-based initiatives not known to us to our attention. Initiatives and organizations that wish to be considered for support may "self-nominate" by submitting a brief description of their work through our grants portal.

We will invite applicants selected through this process to submit proposals. MacArthur Staff will consider these requests, with final decisions made by the Foundation. 

In the future, the selection process may change to ensure that we can consider even more possibilities.


Updated January 2021


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