Remarks by Jonathan Fanton, 30th Anniversary Grantee Reception, Museum of Contemporary Art
February 28, 2008 | Speech | Community & Economic Development, Arts & Culture in Chicago

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation. Thank you for joining us this evening as we mark our 30th anniversary. Our main purpose is to enjoy each other’s company and to thank you, our grantees – the people who do the work, take the risks, win the battles that give tangible form to our collective aspirations. We are pleased that members of your boards, civic leaders, city officials, and members of the City Council are with us as well.

We are also joined by two former trustees, George Ranney, a steadfast champion of MacArthur’s work in the Chicago region and Walter Massey who returned home to Chicago after 12 years as President of Morehouse College. We are also glad to see our former vice president, Woody Wickham – who, with Adele Simmons, brought many of you into the MacArthur family.

We enter our fourth decade in a good place. Our mission is clear: we seek a more just, sustainable and peaceful world through support of creative individuals, effective institutions and fresh ideas.

A new generation of Board members has settled in, we are blessed with a strong and committed staff, and our resources are growing. Our philanthropy will be close to $300 million this year. And while MacArthur will always be a work in progress, open to new ideas and programs, we take on challenging issues – human rights, community development, conservation and others – and we stay with them for a long time. We are deeply committed to the issues we have chosen and the institutions we are supporting.

MacArthur works in 60 countries around the world, but our home and our hearts are in Chicago. Over the past thirty years, the Chicago region has received the largest share of MacArthur’s philanthropy: three-quarters of a billion dollars to 860 organizations and individuals. We invest in Chicago’s poorest but promising neighborhoods, we support public housing transformation and affordable rental housing preservation, we promote system reform in education and juvenile justice, we strengthen the city’s arts and culture institutions – these are among our major initiatives here.

We have a deep, abiding commitment to Chicago. MacArthur is rare among major foundations because we work locally, nationally and internationally. We can do so because we are headquartered in a city of global importance, of global reach, of cosmopolitan sensibilities, practical wisdom and can-do spirit, a city that is trusted and respected around the world.

We think we are a better foundation in all that we do around the world because we are rooted in Chicago – a place where we interact with real issues and real people.

The lessons we learn here in Chicago inform our work elsewhere. For example, the New Communities Program with LISC has pioneered a comprehensive approach to community development, now being tried in ten other cities. And our juvenile justice reform work at Loyola is of interest in China and Russia.

No one has done more to advance Chicago as a city of global importance than Mayor Daley. We are pleased to support his bold bid for the 2016 Olympics.

The MacArthur Foundation, together with the Chicago Community Trust, the McCormick Tribune Foundation, and the Polk Brothers Foundation, has established the 2016 Olympics Fund for Chicago Neighborhoods. The Fund will help neighborhoods participate in the planning for the Games, so that local communities benefit from jobs, infrastructure improvements, business opportunities and tourism generated by the Olympics.

The Mayor wanted to be with us this evening, but he is attending a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He has however issued a proclamation. His Chief of Staff Lori Healey is here tonight, to bring a message from the Mayor. Lori…

* * *

To mark our 30th Anniversary, I am pleased to announce we are increasing our support for arts and culture in the Chicago area by $1.5 million – a 25 percent increase. We currently support over 180 museums, theaters, dance companies, and musical groups – that number will now grow to over 200. In addition to all-important general support from the Foundation directly and through the MacArthur Funds for the Arts at Prince and Driehaus, we will seek opportunities to assist the arts and culture community as a whole in technology enhancement, board development, audience outreach.

I am also pleased to announce the creation of a $1 million fund to encourage international exchanges between our grantees and other countries. We will be open to your ideas, but some examples might include local arts groups wanting to perform in Africa; community development organizations in Pilsen and Little Village wanting to strengthen ties with similar groups in Mexico; housing organizations bringing lessons learned on affordable housing preservation to Lagos, New Delhi and Moscow. Local students could interact with their peers abroad. Possibilities abound.

We hope this Fund will bring people from all over the world to see your work first hand and share their own experiences. Being a global city is certainly about international business, transportation, great universities and museums. But it is also about neighborhoods and individuals meeting their counterparts from and in every corner of the globe.

A belief in the power of creative individuals, a conviction that institutions matter, a commitment to research and its application to public policy, a faith that people will make sensible choices if given good information tested through reasoned discourse with a diversity of views: these are the themes that define the MacArthur Foundation and which brought us together with all of you.

That consistency in values, characteristics and programs reflects an engaged Board of Trustees.

Typical of our new generation of trustees is Jack Fuller, known to most of you as the former president of the Chicago Tribune, and now a writer and frequent contributor to the Tribune’s op-ed page.

Jack has toured Chicago neighborhoods with me and Andy Mooney of LISC, but also has traveled to Nigeria to see our human rights work and to Cuba to learn about our conservation initiatives. He will close our program with reflections from the Board.


As MacArthur has moved through early adulthood and as we now contemplate our middle years, we have learned that progress comes in uneven increments and is hard won. But we remain optimistic that all things are possible. We deeply believe that by supporting your work – your artistry, advocacy and action – we can make a difference.

Thank you for celebrating with us tonight, and for being such good partners in the quest for a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.

Stay Informed
Sign up for periodic news updates and event invitations.
Check out our social media content in one place, or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn.