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

The majority of funding is in the form of multi-year, general operating support to arts and culture organizations in the Chicago region. We make grants directly to organizations with budgets above $2 million. Grant sizes range from $50,000 to $75,000 per year, typically for three years.

In 2003, the MacArthur Funds at the Prince Charitable Trusts and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation were established to support small and midsized arts organizations with multi-year general operating grants. Through these historic partnerships with Prince and Driehaus, MacArthur has provided a total of $65.6 million to 565 local arts and culture organizations.

In 2019, we announced a new approach called Culture, Equity, and the Arts. As our partnerships with Prince and Driehaus approached the end of five-year terms, which wind down in December 2022, we talked with both funders about their own vision for their future work.

Together with the Prince Trusts and Driehaus Foundation, we mutually and amicably agreed to not continue our funding partnership beyond 2022.

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.

We are exploring a new partnership with the goal of announcing a funding partner by Summer 2022 to make grants starting in Spring 2023.

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

The Driehaus Foundation and Prince Charitable Trusts posted announcements on their own websites with additional information specific to current grantees and potential applicants. You can find that information below:

Richard H. Driehaus Foundation announcement › 

Prince Charitable Trusts announcement › 


Funding Priorities

The majority of funding in the Culture, Equity, and the Arts program is in the form of unrestricted general operating support. We make grants directly to organizations with budgets above $2 million. Grant sizes range from $50,000 to $75,000 per year, typically for three years.

In reviewing proposals, we consider 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.

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.

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

Advancing Leadership ›
Civic Partnerships ›
Vital Communities ›

Chicago Commitment strategy ›


Updated May 2022

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