Chicago Commitment

The Becoming a Man project, which helps middle school youths overcome obstacles and improve academic performance, has earned national recognition, including from the White House.

In this commentary originally published in Crain's Chicago Business, MacArthur President Julia Stasch reaffirms the Foundation's enduring commitment to Chicago.

A recent opinion piece published by Crain's asserts that the MacArthur Foundation has shortchanged the serious problems that confront Chicago and its African-American and Latino communities. While we recognize that we must guard against the unconscious or implicit biases that affect many of society's institutions, and we welcome constructive dialogue, our critic inaccurately and grossly understated our efforts to address the urgent problems that confront our city. He also misses the mark on the diversity of the organizations, communities and individuals we support.  

While MacArthur is an international private foundation with staff in Chicago, Nigeria, Mexico, India and, until 2015, Russia, and with active grants in about 50 countries, we have a firm and enduring commitment to our hometown, Chicago.

Since 1979, we have provided $1.1 billion in grants and direct impact investments to Chicago organizations—more MacArthur funds than to any other place in the world. We also work through local intermediaries who deploy resources to hundreds of additional organizations and individuals all across the city.

Although our programs in Chicago change over time, our goals include:

Strengthening the city and its neighborhoods and expanding opportunity. For example, with $60 million in funding from MacArthur, LISC Chicago's New Communities Program worked to increase the quality of life in 16 low-income historically African-American and Latino Chicago neighborhoods, providing grants to almost 300 organizations working directly in those neighborhoods. Again, through intermediaries, more than 225 small and midsize arts organizations, most located in Chicago neighborhoods or working with public school students, also received MacArthur funds, many year after year. 

Grants to DePaul University supported the Digital Youth Network to work with the Chicago Public Library to design YOUMedia, innovative teen spaces where young people learn with digital media and gain skills they need for the future; it has inspired dozens of similar spaces across the country. The organization also conceived and organized the Chicago City of Learning to provide equitable learning opportunities for all Chicago youth.

In addition to grants like these, in the past five years, three of the largest local financial intermediaries that we support with impact investments combined our funds with other resources and made 800 loans totaling $443 million in financing for community projects and local organizations, and mortgages for mostly African-American and Latino families, in 54 of the city's 77 neighborhoods and numerous low-income suburban communities. When Second Federal Savings failed in Pilsen, a $15 million investment enabled the Resurrection Project to work with Self Help Federal Credit Union to keep a financial institution open to serve the community. Community organizations supported by MacArthur loans also financed the development of an arts and recreation center in Ellis Park serving residents of Bronzeville and the expansion of Growing Home's urban farm in Englewood.

Helping foster more effective and responsive government. Although our resources are small compared to government, they can play a critical role by funding research, demonstrations and policy experts to address systemic barriers to justice and opportunity, and pioneer fresh approaches. For example, Illinois and Chicago are part of our national effort to improve juvenile justice and treat more fairly the mostly minority young people in contact with the law. We provided funds to Youth Guidance and the University of Chicago's Crime Lab for the Becoming a Man (BAM) project, as part of our effort to determine what programs actually work to reduce youth violence.

As part of local criminal justice reform, the Safer Foundation piloted new ways to support ex-offenders, and our funds helped improve the information judges use when they make decisions about whom to detain and whom to release. Cook County is participating in the foundation's national effort to reduce the number of people in jail, and racial and ethnic disparities in local criminal justice systems.

MacArthur resources helped create the City's Micro Market Recovery Program. The goal is to strengthen local housing markets in neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosure and declining values. Our impact investments made it possible for projects in Pullman, Bronzeville, and other low-income neighborhoods to tap into needed city resources and subsidies.

Providing innovative, low-cost capital to help organizations grow. In addition to grants, we have been making impact investments for more than 30 years. Impact investments are low-cost, long-term loans and other forms of capital for nonprofits, charitable financing intermediaries and local businesses; they are often used to spark private-sector investment that might otherwise stay on the sidelines. The need to strengthen neighborhoods, stimulate jobs and fuel creative, entrepreneurial solutions to social problems and economic vitality is more urgent than ever.

We recently announced Benefit Chicago, our $100 million collaboration with the Chicago Community Trust and Calvert Foundation, through which we will mobilize and add significant private-sector financial resources to essential grant and government support for local communities that need investment.

What's next? There is much more to be done. As part of our unwavering commitment to Chicago, we will build on this history of partnerships and engagement and collaborate with others to redress inequality and attack the city's critical challenges. We will support organizations that make up an essential civic, community and cultural infrastructure, with a deep focus on the tough challenges of violence, police-community relations and youth employment.

Chicago Commitment