MacArthur in Chicago: Reflecting on 2018
February 20, 2019 | Perspectives | Chicago Commitment, Arts & Culture in Chicago, Civic Partnerships, Influential Leaders, Strong Organizations, Vital Communities

MacArthur President Julia Stasch reflects on the Foundation’s approach to work in our hometown, the nonprofit organizations we support, and their creative and effective efforts make the Chicago region a better place to live, work, and learn for everyone. 


In a recent essay, I characterized 2018 as a period where “in breathtaking convergence, bedrock values, longstanding alliances, workable regimes, standards of decency and care, scientific consensus, and much more are under attack.” Even in this daunting context, in 2018, MacArthur was honored to support creative, courageous, and effective work in Chicago. 

Last year, we awarded 129 grants totaling $49.3 million, and a single, long-term $15 million impact investment. Together, these reflect our commitment to:

  • Strengthen Chicago nonprofits;
  • Contribute to civic partnerships that bring multiple donors together to tackle critical challenges;
  • Invest in the vitality of local communities;
  • Advance a more diverse set of leaders that reflects our diverse city and region; and
  • Support local organizations advancing the goals of our national and global programs to lift up voices often not heard in policy debates and civic discussions, reform local justice systems, promote climate solutions, and reduce nuclear risk.

In her recent Perspectives piece, Elevating Others’ Voices While Finding Our Own, Chicago Commitment director Tara Magner shared our journey to expand our relationships with local, community-based organizations, to listen more, and to bring more value to those relationships, across the five themes that comprise our Chicago Commitment

Strong Organizations
A strong, effective social sector is essential if Chicago is to thrive, for the benefit of all. In 2018, we added seven new organizations to our portfolio of ten Community Capital awardees, with resources dedicated solely to strengthening operations and programs, helping them increase their effectiveness, innovate, and grow. Examples include BUILD, Inc., Inner-City Muslim Network, Lawndale Christian Legal Center, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, and Target Area Development Corporation. Modest, expedited grants provided resources for numerous organizations to convene and organize local residents, plan for more inclusive growth, and enhance financial management and communications capacity. 

Awareness campaign from Leave No Veteran Behind


Like an earlier investment to secure the assets of Second Federal Savings and Loan on the West Side, a $15 million impact investment to Self Help Ventures Fund supported the acquisition of assets of the former Seaway Bank on Chicago’s South Side. This financial investment helped to facilitate the creation of Seaway, a division of Self-Help Federal Credit Union, which continues to serve the Chicago-area communities of Bronzeville, Chatham, Crestwood, Maywood, and Roseland.
Civic Partnerships
Civic partnerships bring civic leaders and organizations together to tackle critical issues or seize timely opportunities. Last year, we continued our participation in the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, whose more than 40 members support proven and promising approaches to reducing gun violence. Among the efforts supported by MacArthur funds are the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, the Heartland Alliance READI Chicago program, Metropolitan Family Services’ Communities Partnering 4 Peace street outreach and intervention, and, through the Partnership’s Summer Fund, quick response grants to local—even block-level—organizations working to crowd out violence, enhance community cohesion, and create the conditions that can help reduce violence. 
A grant to the City of Chicago supports the design of the new Mayor’s Office of Violence Prevention. Evaluations of the major programs targeting individuals most likely to be involved in or affected by gun violence are underway, with the goal that public sector resources can help bring the programs to the scale required to turn the tide.
Vital Communities
In her Perspectives commentary on Community-Driven Solutions, Chicago Commitment senior program officer Tawa Mitchell shared how the Vital Communities strategy was developed. Building on and learning from our support for neighborhood revitalization in Chicago, which we have supported since our founding, we are now investing in networks and pursuing solutions generated by local organizations at various levels—including neighborhoods and clusters of communities—allowing them to tackle challenges around which they have built consensus. Austin Coming Together, Bright Star Community Outreach Corporation, and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council are among the place-based initiatives that bring people and organizations together to strengthen a neighborhood as a whole.  Complementing these direct investments was support for infrastructure organizations, like Metropolitan Planning Council, LISC, the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which conduct planning, management and technical assistance, policy research and evaluation, and data analysis for groups working at the community, city, or regional level.
At-RiskYouthGatheringAsPartOfBrightonParkNeigborhoodCouncilViolencePreventionProgram

Brighton Park Neigborhood Council's Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) Violence Prevention program working with at-risk youth.

Influential Leaders
Achieving the goal of a Chicago that works for everyone is unlikely unless leadership across sectors more closely reflects the city’s diversity. In 2018, we continued our efforts to enhance and expand leadership opportunities for individuals who are leaders in their communities, fields, or sectors, but may not be heard in public conversation or participate in the decisions that shape our city. Our grantees include ADA25 Advancing Leadership Project; Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Chicago; Latino Policy Forum; Crossroads Fund; and others. Significant resources for the Field Foundation of Illinois supported our new partnership for the creation of Leaders for a New Chicago
As Chicago redefines itself, Leaders for a New Chicago will advance equity and access to opportunity, and foster conditions that recognize and promote people who bring a broad diversity of background and experience to leadership positions. The program seeks to build a more inclusive Chicago by tapping communities outside of the city’s current power structure. These grants will go to established or emerging Chicago leaders with the potential for continuing leadership.
Arts and Culture
Even as we sustained our long-time general operating support for arts and culture organizations, through direct awards and through the MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and Prince Charitable Trusts, and made another round of grants through the International Connections Fund, we continued to consider the variety of responses we received when we asked “Whose voices were missing? What are they saying?” In a Perspectives essay, A More Inclusive View of Art and Artistic Expression, Chicago Commitment senior program officer Cate Fox reflected on what we learned when we posed those questions and listened carefully to artists, arts leaders, arts advocates, and individuals interested in the arts. 
NatyaDanceTheatreCompanyin"ShaktiChakra"

Natya Dance Theatre company in "Shakti Chakra"

Bringing our National Work Home to Chicago
In addition to grants and investments made through the Chicago Commitment, we bring our national and global programs to Chicago. In our Journalism and Media program, the Jack Fuller Legacy Initiative announced its initial grantees: Free Spirit Media’s Real Chi Youth civic journalism incubator and reporting bureau, City Bureau, and Chicago Public Media and the Vocalo/WBEZ Community Engagement Exchange. These media outlets reflect not just good local reporting, but also create and disseminate news—and just and inclusive narratives—that support honest public discourse and meaningful civic engagement. As program director Kathy Im reported in her year-end Perspectives piece, Recognizing Blind Spots and Adjusting Course, we built on this initial work in partnership with the Field Foundation of Illinois. The result is a collaborative Media & Storytelling program that seeks to create a connected, equitable, and informed media and storytelling ecosystem in which the stories of all Chicagoans are told accurately, fairly, authoritatively, and contextually. A component of the new program will be to strengthen and expand the reporting and storytelling capacity of a more diverse set of news outlets, reporters, and storytellers.

Other local Journalism and Media grantees included the Black Youth Project; Pillars Fund; and Alianza Americas, for Presente, its online civil rights hub serving Latinx youth.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Openlands drew resources from our global program on Climate Solutions. The Safety and Justice Challenge, our national effort in more than 50 sites to reduce over-incarceration by changing how American thinks about and uses jails, supported local organizations for reform work here in Cook County, Illinois, and beyond, including Access Living, Roger Baldwin Foundation of ACLU, John Howard Association, and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs received resources for their contribution to reducing global nuclear risk, the aim of our Nuclear Challenges program. 

Finally, as a legacy of our past program on migration and the global movement for immigrants, and our concern for immigrant communities in Chicago, we made a special set of ten awards to enhance the capacity of organizations addressing immigration issues in the region.

2018 was our 40th anniversary. Several Chicago grantees were highlighted in our 40 Years, 40 Stories series; they and the others mentioned in this essay are only illustrative of the more than 1,500 local organizations and individuals we are honored to have supported over the years. It is their efforts, and the many fruitful collaborations that form to address our city and region’s challenges, that give us hope for the vision of Chicago as a place where opportunity is equitable, and justice can thrive.

Several years ago, I committed MacArthur to operating more openly and creatively, listening carefully, taking more risk, focusing on justice, helping support others’ ambitions and talents, and directly taking on the issue of the loss of trust in key systems. I share this reflection in the spirit of that commitment and hope that it demonstrates that MacArthur is helping to make real progress solving urgent problems, using all available means—here in Chicago and around the world.

As my time as president of the MacArthur Foundation comes to an end later this year, I see changes in our philanthropic practices that reflect that commitment, and I see much more work to do. As an institution that cares deeply about its hometown, we look forward to supporting the efforts of effective organizations and talented leaders, and to contributing to the partnerships and collaborations that will bring us closer to the reality of a Chicago that works for all.

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