Culture, Equity, and the Arts in Chicago

Reflecting diverse creative sector voices and sustaining the creative life of the city

 

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 grant awards are given to organizations whose work is centered on racial equity and/or those 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 eight 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.

Our Approach

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. 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 (90 percent) 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 $100,000 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.

In reviewing proposals from arts groups, the Foundation and the participatory grantmaking panelists consider the following attributes:  

  • Collaborative—the organization actively works with external entities to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • Fosters 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.
  • Connective—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 Support


About 10 percent of the annual arts and culture budget is devoted to investing in initiatives designed to strengthen financial management, facilities management, and artistic practice.

These initiatives include:

  • International Connections Fund, which supports exchanges that encourage greater sharing of experience and international learning between arts and culture organizations in Chicago and in countries around the world.
  • Arts and Culture Loan Fund, which provides small- and medium-sized arts and culture organizations with loans to address cash flow shortages and strengthen the financial capacity of its borrowers.
  • Performing Arts Venue Fund, which assists small- and medium-sized arts organizations make necessary upgrades to their facilities to ensure that the spaces are safe, accessible, and properly licensed.

Expected Outcomes

We expect arts and culture programming to result in:

  • A vibrant cultural life for the city;
  • Amplified voices of those who are often unheard;
  • Stronger, more effective, and stable arts and culture organizations;
  • Greater flexibility for arts and culture nonprofits to innovate and experiment;
  • Exceptional and challenging performances, exhibits, and experiences; and
  • Greater access to arts-centered opportunities and resources for historically underserved communities.

Funding Priorities

The Culture, Equity, and the Arts program pursues the following complementary forms of funding, distributed in partnership with the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Prince Charitable Trusts.

The majority of funding (90 percent) is in the form of multi-year, core 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 to five 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:  

  • Collaborative—the organization actively works with external entities to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • Fosters 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.
  • Connective—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.

About 10 percent of the annual Culture, Equity, and the Arts budget is devoted to investing in initiatives designed to strengthen financial management, facilities management, and artistic practice.

These initiatives include the International Connections Fund, which supports exchanges that encourage greater sharing of experience and international learning between arts and culture organizations in Chicago and in countries around the world; the Arts and Culture Loan Fund, which provides small- and medium-sized arts and culture organizations with loans to address cash flow shortages and strengthen the financial capacity of its borrowers; and the Performing Arts Venue Fund, which assists small- and medium-sized arts organizations make necessary upgrades to their facilities to ensure that the spaces are safe, accessible, and properly licensed.

Measurement and Evaluation for Learning

The Chicago Commitment has engaged an evaluation and learning partner 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. Findings and analysis from evaluation activities will be published as they become available.

Evaluations for the Arts & Culture Loan Fund Program and General Operating Support to Arts Organizations can be found below.

 


Updated August 2019

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