Why We Support This Work
In 2017, the MacArthur Foundation began to reassess our approach to arts and culture grantmaking in the city of Chicago. We considered how we might better support a creative network that is reflective of our city’s diverse voices. The reimagined program, called Culture, Equity, and the Arts, is informed by conversations with leaders from arts organizations, artists, and creatives in nonprofit and for-profit spaces, and arts advocates and administrators. It is also shaped by MacArthur’s participation in Enrich Chicago and a Foundation-wide effort to reflect on how our decisions and actions enhance the conditions in which justice can thrive.
We provide support to organizations with a primary focus on arts and culture and to organizations that are arts-centered, meaning that art is integral to executing an organization’s mission but may not be the organization’s primary goal. Larger-sized grants are awarded to organizations whose mission is centered on Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian voices and/or organizations that are focused on other traditionally under-resourced identities, such as people with disabilities and people on the LGBTQIA+ continuum.
In an effort to ensure more voices are included as part of our decision-making process, the applications are reviewed by a participatory grantmaking panel, with five to twelve members. The panel consists of community members who reflect the city’s diversity and geography. Ultimately, the panel recommends a slate of grantees and award amounts to MacArthur’s President and Board of Directors, which retain their approval authority.
We believe that the high level of cultural vitality in the Chicago region rests on a strong core of arts and culture organizations, large and small, that represent the diversity of artistic disciplines, artists within those disciplines, neighborhoods, and residents. These organizations enhance the quality of life for our city while also driving significant economic activity, creating jobs, and attracting talent and tourism. Through this program, MacArthur provides unrestricted general operating support, directly and through partners, to nearly 300 large and small organizations. These resources provide flexible, reliable funding that helps organizations maintain stability, plan ahead, pursue new ideas, and invest in new artistic directions. These resources also complement targeted, capacity-building programs that strengthen the sector as a whole. This robust program is a central element of a newly designed, more comprehensive, and coordinated approach to leadership, grantmaking, investments, and related activities.
General Operating Support
The majority of funding is in the form of multi-year, general operating support to nearly 300 arts and culture organizations in the Chicago region. The MacArthur Foundation makes grants directly to organizations with budgets above $2 million. Grant sizes range from $50,000 to $75,000 per year, typically for three to five years. Two grantmaking partners, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Prince Charitable Trusts, re-grant MacArthur funds to institutions below the $2 million budget threshold, with grants ranging from $3,000 to $45,000 annually.
The majority of funding is in the form of unrestricted general operating support to nearly 300 arts and culture organizations in the Chicago region. The MacArthur Foundation makes grants directly to organizations with budgets above $2 million. Grant sizes range from $50,000 to $100,000 per year, typically over three years. Two grantmaking partners, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Prince Charitable Trusts, regrant MacArthur funds to institutions below the $2 million budget threshold with grants ranging from $3,000 to $45,000 annually.
In reviewing proposals from arts groups, the Foundation considers the following qualities:
- Collaboration—the organization actively works with external entities to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
- Commitment to Fostering Equity—the organization recognizes that advantages and barriers exist and strives to ensure access to opportunities and resources for historically underserved communities within its creative practice(s), program(s), and organizational structure.
- Connectivity—the organization uses its art and cultural practices/programming to build empathy and individual empowerment, bridge divides between people, and/or connect to other familiar or unfamiliar perspectives.
- Relevance—the organization’s creative work and the organization itself are in dialogue around timely, present-day issues.
Capacity building funding complements the unrestricted general operating grants and supports the Chicago-area arts and culture sector as a whole. The purpose of any projects supported by these grants is to strengthen the local arts sector in the Chicago area and to sustain and improve their contributions to cultural life in the city. Current and recent examples of capacity building funding are included in the Culture, Equity, and the Arts grant guidelines.
Measurement and Evaluation for Learning
Evaluation of our work is a critical tool for informing our decision making, leading to better results and more effective stewardship of resources. We develop customized evaluation designs for each of our programs based on the context, problem, opportunity, and approach to the work. Evaluation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process of collecting feedback and using that information to support our grantees and adjust our strategy.
The Chicago Commitment has engaged an evaluation and learning partner, Education Development Center, to measure and evaluate the progress of our strategy, test assumptions underpinning it, and collect information about the context in which the strategy operates. The focus of these activities is on learning. We aim to understand how the strategy contributes to a Chicago that is more equitable and where justice can thrive. Evaluations for the Arts & Culture Loan Fund Program and for the International Connections Fund have been completed.
Findings and analyses from evaluation activities are posted publicly as they become available.
Additional Areas of Work
Updated May 2021