Total Awarded: $4.4 million
Total Number of Grants: 114
Evaluation Period: 2008-2016
Geographic Focus: Chicago, Global


The International Connections Fund (ICF) was established in 2008 with the goal of helping Chicago nonprofit organizations advance their work by collaborating with peer organizations abroad. While eligibility criteria for ICF grants have shifted over the program’s lifespan, this core mission has remained unchanged. During the life of the ICF program, MacArthur has administered 14 grant cycles, making 141 grants totaling more than $5.8 million. The majority of these grants—133 in all, totaling $5.4 million—have been awarded to support arts and culture projects. These projects have enabled Chicago artists, audiences, and arts and culture organizations to participate in international exchanges with counterparts from 63 different countries on six continents.


What We Evaluated

Ten years into the program, we commissioned NORC at the University of Chicago to take stock of how the program has operated; learn what impact it has made on ICF grantees, their collaborators, and audiences; and consider how the program can best serve future grantees as ICF enters its second decade. The evaluation reviewed 12 ICF grant cycles that took place between 2008 and 2016, during which 114 grants were made to 91 different arts and culture organizations.


What We Learned

  • ICF is a unique and highly valued opportunity for Chicago arts and culture organizations because of its emphasis on mutually beneficial exchanges and artistic growth of grantees.
  • ICF grants are especially transformative for smaller organizations; however, such organizations often face barriers to applying arising from a lack of information about the program and the application process.
  • ICF grants enable the formation of strong, lasting relationships with new international partners. Many grantees have a keen desire to deepen these relationships by pursuing additional ICF grants with that partner.
  • By and large, grantees find the ICF application and management process to be fair, straightforward, and minimally burdensome, save for a few specific frustrations.
  • ICF grants have been funded at varying stages of relationship development with international partners, which can play a significant role in how smoothly the project runs, especially in regard to cultural barriers, administrative logistics, and project management.
  • Nearly all organizations (97 percent) reported that the grant was “helpful” or “very helpful” in pushing the organization’s artistic boundaries, indicating that one of the primary goals of the ICF program—to help organizations grow creatively—is being met across all cohorts of grantees.


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