, author
Geoffrey Banks
Former Senior Program Officer, Chicago Commitment

Geoffrey Banks, Senior Program Officer, Chicago Commitment, shares a new, more equity-centered approach for our funding to small and medium sized arts and culture organizations.


MacArthur has supported Chicago-based arts and culture organizations for more than 40 years. In 2003, the Foundation launched regranting partnerships with two local philanthropies, the MacArthur Fund at the Prince Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Fund at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, offering unrestricted support to strengthen and sustain small and midsized arts and culture organizations. Through these longstanding regranting relationships, MacArthur has awarded a total of $65.6 million to 565 small and midsized organizations with budgets under $2 million.

As a former Senior Program Officer at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, I witnessed firsthand the crucial role that small organizations play in maintaining the vibrancy of Chicago’s arts ecosystem. Through a partnership between the MacArthur and Driehaus foundations, I helped to regrant MacArthur funds in the form of general operating support to roughly 175 small arts and culture organizations with annual budgets of less than $500,000.

Numerous grantees had the opportunity to take part in a variety of complementary opportunities such as the MacArthur International Connections Fund, the Arts and Culture Loan Fund, the Performing Arts Venue Fund, capacity-building opportunities, and professional development grants.

Over this rich history of nearly two decades, the basic structure and grant decision-making processes of these funding partnerships have not fundamentally changed. Most recently, in 2018, MacArthur announced five-year grants to the Prince Trusts and Driehaus Foundation totaling a combined $24.3 million in pass-through funding for 2018 to 2022.


Becoming Culture, Equity, and the Arts

Chicago’s creative vitality is worth celebrating, but we must acknowledge that support for the arts and culture sector has not been distributed equitably across the city’s geographies or populations. With this in mind, in 2019 MacArthur announced a new approach called Culture, Equity, and the Arts (CEA), through which we directly support organizations with annual budgets of $2 million and above. Up until that time, the Arts and Culture program supported as many organizations as possible. The new program incorporates hallmarks of the previous one, such as offering multi-year general operating support, while making important changes.

The CEA program has a new central goal: To promote equity by fostering collaborations between arts organizations and leaders and increasing culturally relevant experiences that reflect Chicago’s diversity.

Culture, Equity, and the Arts will continue to include support for small, midsized, and large institutions with multi-year general operating grants.

The first two rounds of Culture, Equity, and the Arts grants were announced in 2020 and 2021. A critical element in this new program is that we invite a panel of participatory grantmakers to make funding recommendations. Our aim is to advance the sector in three ways: first, by applying new equity-focused guidelines; second, by no longer basing funding amounts on the size of organizations’ budgets; and third, by shifting power outside of philanthropic institutions, relying instead on the advice from voices outside the Foundation in making grant decisions.

To date, these fundamental changes have only applied to our direct grantmaking program for organizations with annual budgets over $2 million and have not extended to the MacArthur funds at Prince and Driehaus. As our current partnerships approach the end of their current five-year terms, we have mutually and amicably agreed with the Prince Trusts and Driehaus Foundation to not continue our funding partnerships beyond the end of 2022.

In the coming year, we will begin working to extend our focus on equity to small and midsized arts and arts-centered organizations. We will consider how to apply participatory grantmaking practices to the process for supporting these organizations. We will also discuss with grantee organizations whether they wish to collaborate to address shared diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals and learning.

What does all of this mean going forward?


Deepening Our Equity Commitment

As our historic partnerships with Prince and Driehaus wind down, we are considering a new funding partner that builds on and deepens the equity goals of the CEA program. We expect the partner to have a standing commitment to Chicago’s arts and culture sector, to implement participatory grantmaking practices, and to be committed to supporting small and midsized organizations. Our aim is to announce a new funding partner in the summer of 2022.

We are steadfast in our commitment to promoting equity through the arts.

We expect to make a planning grant to a new funding partner to develop an entirely new program offering general operating support to small and midsized institutions that have a strong commitment to equity. In consultation with MacArthur Staff, the new partner will use the planning period to design the program over the course of one year, determining equity-focused grantmaking guidelines and creating a new proposal review and selection process that includes the participation of external actors. We anticipate that the funding partner will launch its new grants program in the spring of 2023.

Like Prince and Driehaus historically, the new funding partner will maintain independent control and supervision of its own program. The new partner will release funding criteria so that interested organizations may explore the possibility of receiving grants under its structure. While we expect a degree of strategic alignment between our direct CEA grantmaking program for larger organizations and the new funding partner’s program for small and midsize groups, all grant decisions will be at the discretion of the new partner. These changes will apply to grantees of the previous MacArthur-Prince and MacArthur-Driehaus programs as well as to organizations applying to the new program for the first time.

At MacArthur, we recognize that this is a significant change for the sector at large and for organizations that receive MacArthur funds through Prince and Driehaus, many of which have been longtime grantees. We will be in close communication and conversation with the organizations most impacted as we navigate this transitional planning year on our journey toward a more equitable city together.