Arts & Culture in Chicago

As prepared for delivery at the International Connections Fund Celebration, October 6, 2015.

I am delighted to be with you this evening for two purposes: To share our plans for MacArthur and the arts in Chicago; And to announce our International Connections Fund grantees for 2015

We have just seen a video about why MacArthur supports the arts, and the impact that the creative community has both on our lives and Chicago’s economy. We are proud of what has been accomplished. We are also dedicated to ensuring that it continues to thrive in the years ahead.

I have been president of MacArthur for a little more than a year. I know that change and transitions can make people nervous. So let me reiterate why the Foundation thinks this program, and all our work in the arts, is so valuable.

First, we believe whole-heartedly in the value and power of the arts. They constitute our necessary ecosystem: Beautiful, upsetting, harmonious, dissonant, causing outward reaction and inward reflection.

They help us make sense of the world, challenging our preconceptions, stirring deep emotions, and pointing to transcendent truths. For communities to thrive, then, the arts must be creative, confident – and solvent.

MacArthur, with our partners at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Prince Charitable Trusts, supports some 300 arts and culture organizations across our city and region. Even as we develop new work – in important areas such as criminal justice reform and climate change solutions – we will continue our support for arts and culture in Chicago. And we will carry on with our approach of offering general operating support.

We also know that the arts are an economic engine, a spur to creativity in other fields, and a key component of successful cities. Chicago’s large and small institutions of art and culture are powerful assets, places that foster imagination and excellence, drawing people from around the nation and the world. MacArthur is an integral part of the fabric of this City; we will be steadfast in supporting the people and organizations that make it such an exciting and inventive place to live.

Now to the primary reason we are gathered tonight: The International Connections Fund.

Welcome to all who have taken part in this year’s program, to representatives from groups we have supported in the past and to all of you from Chicago’s remarkable, vibrant arts and culture sector.

In 2008, MacArthur began to support collaborations between arts and culture organizations in Chicago and their counterparts in other cities around the world. Since then, we have awarded more than one hundred grants. The results have been remarkable in their range and quality, drawing together creative people from almost every region of the globe to do wonderful, innovative things together and create work that has been inspiring, filled with optimism and goodwill.  

This year will be no exception.

Like so many other Chicago businesses and civil society groups, MacArthur is both American and international. This is, after all, a city built by immigrants, a hub for world-wide trade and intellectual exchange – a truly global metropolis. The Foundation works in dozens of other nations in areas as diverse as conservation and human rights, maternal health and education. That strengthens and informs everything we do – and we know that arts and culture organizations are enriched by exchanges with their colleagues abroad.

When people engage across culture and geographies in what they are passionate and accomplished in doing, something magical happens. Personal bonds are forged, differences are translated – often transcended, new insights and directions are born. In a time when technology has brought us all closer together, these conversations are more significant than ever.

Elspeth Revere, who built this initiative, deeply understands and lives these insights. Her pioneering efforts made our International Connections Fund take wing, and her influence will endure. I will have an opportunity to pay further tribute to Elspeth later in the program. But for the moment, please welcome her to say more about the Fund and its objectives.

Tribute to Elspeth Revere

This evening is bittersweet. While we celebrate another outstanding set of grantees and exciting programs for our International Connections Fund, we are also saying goodbye to its chief architect, Elspeth Revere.

It is appropriate that the Foundation formally bids her farewell among the arts and culture community she served with such enthusiasm and energy for more than a decade.

Elspeth has been at MacArthur since 1991, serving as Program Officer, Director, and Vice President in that time. Her legacy to the Foundation is incalculable in terms of its intellectual breadth, mentoring of colleagues, and leadership across many areas of grantmaking.

Elspeth brought to the Foundation the curiosity and depth only a St John’s College and University of Chicago education can foster. Her work in Guatemala and fluency in Spanish gave her a valuable international perspective. And her service to the City in the Departments of Housing and Planning instilled a love for Chicago that permeated all she did.

And what she did was remarkable: developing and implementing programs to reduce gun violence, to make copyright serve the public good in the digital age, to promote human rights, and to support American democracy among many. Her leadership has kept MacArthur’s long-standing support for quality journalism and documentary film fresh, challenging, and always excellent.

Elspeth has rare gifts in engaging productively across widely different domains, spotting significant trends, and shaping strategies to serve the best interests of all in times of rapid change. A concern for the disadvantaged, for social justice, and for an America true to its best impulses animates her whole professional life, and has a profound influence on others.

As Elspeth’s colleague for nearly 15 years, I can personally pay tribute to her patience, her immense dedication, and her unshakeable commitment to serving the common good. Few people in the world of philanthropy understand better the needs and aspirations of grantees, and few have served them with such exemplary respect and faithfulness. I have learned a great deal from Elspeth, and I greatly appreciate her support and kindness to me.

As we wish Elspeth well in her future endeavors, MacArthur acknowledges the effect she has had on us as an institution, the enduring contribution she leaves behind, and the ideals she hands on for us to pursue in all we undertake. Thank you, Elspeth.   

Arts & Culture in Chicago, Arts & Culture