Chicago Commitment Strategy

Vital Communities Grant Guidelines



Chicago is a global city with vibrant, diverse neighborhoods and a strong civic culture. And yet Chicago’s legacy and continued practice of systemic racism creates unequal access to resources and opportunities for communities of color. Established systems prevent equitable access to opportunities and resources, contributing to racial and economic segregation, unequal rates of economic mobility, and many other racial and ethnic disparities.

We have supported neighborhood revitalization in the Chicago metropolitan area since our founding. We have learned important lessons from four decades of investing in constructive community change—for example, the importance of investments in individual programs and projects and in investments that strengthen neighborhoods.

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 and creative placemaking initiatives in order to improve market conditions and the quality of life for individuals in neighborhoods that have experienced disinvestment. In light of Chicago’s history, our place-based funding is likely be concentrated in African-American and Latinx neighborhoods on the South and West Sides; however, other historically marginalized communities and those affected by segregation and other forms of systemic racism will not be excluded from eligibility.


Place-Based Initiatives

We support place-based initiatives that mobilize a range of local partners and resources in pursuit of broad community revitalization and economic growth. We award grants to community-based organizations engaged in economic development and to community development financial institutions to support socially beneficial development. We are focused on the development of commercial corridors and industrial clusters that have the potential to create benefits such as new and increased financing, additional small businesses, expanded job opportunities, rehabilitated physical infrastructure, and enhanced community amenities. We believe that philanthropy can play a significant role in catalyzing new investment, especially in areas that the private sector has deemed too risky. The goal is for project leaders to develop their work to the point that additional support can be sought from other funders and investors. 


Creative Placemaking

Creative placemaking is a place-based community and economic development tool that uses 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 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.


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:

  • experienced historical marginalization;
  • the potential to attract commercial real estate or industrial development and increased financing;
  • community engagement in design and development plans; and
  • organizations or other entities with a record of community planning, prior experience in development, and the capacity to support new projects.

For creative placemaking 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 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 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 June 2020

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