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 2019, we announced a new approach to arts and culture grantmaking in the city of Chicago. 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 historically marginalized 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 eight 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.

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 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.


General Operating Support

Funding is in the form of multi-year, general operating support to Chicago-based arts and culture organizations. We make grants directly to organizations with budgets above $1 million. Grant sizes range from $50,000 to $75,000 per year, typically for three years.

Moving forward, our vision for Culture, Equity, and the Arts will continue to include multi-year general operating support for small and mid-sized organizations.

In September 2022, we made a planning grant to the Field Foundation to develop a new re-granting partnership that will offer general operating support to small and mid-sized arts and culture organizations. With racial equity at the center of its giving, Field supports organizations working to address systemic issues in Chicago, with the aim of empowering communities that have experienced economic divestment. The planning grant provides Field with the time and resources to stand up a new program that advances the CEA strategy by offering general operating support to smaller-sized, equity-focused arts and cultural organizations. This planning period will last until Spring 2023. When Field establishes this new program in 2023, it will release new grantmaking guidelines so that interested organizations may explore the possibility of receiving support from it. By extending our focus on equity to small and mid-sized arts and culture organizations, we aim to achieve greater diversity in the organizations we support via the new funding partner, thereby advancing the Chicago Commitment’s racial equity goal.

To learn more about this transition, we encourage you to read “Building a More Equitable Arts Ecosystem from the Ground Up.” 

View 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.

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 published as they become available.


Additional Areas of Work

Advancing Leadership ›
Civic Partnerships ›
Vital Communities ›

Chicago Commitment strategy ›


Updated March 2023

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