Arts & Culture in Chicago

Based on the premise that cultural vitality in the Chicago region requires strong arts organizations, MacArthur provides unrestricted general operating support, directly and through partners, to more than 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. They complement targeted, time-limited projects that strengthen the sector as a whole. This robust program will be a central element of a newly designed, more comprehensive and coordinated approach to leadership, grantmaking, investments, and related activities.


The MacArthur Foundation’s arts and culture grantmaking is a key component of its Chicago Commitment, its home community. This work is based on the premise that a diverse and flourishing cultural community contributes to Chicago’s overall economic, educational, and civic vitality. The Foundation provides support that enables more than 300 arts organizations to grow artistically, to develop programs that enrich their audiences and the larger community, to pursue innovation, and to build and sustain their organizational strength. This, in turn, strengthens communities, creates jobs, attracts tourism, and provides cultural and educational resources for the city.


Since 1978, the Foundation has supported arts and culture in Chicago to express our civic commitment and contribute to the economy of the city and region. Since 2003, the Foundation’s arts strategy has focused on the following goals:

  1. To support the arts and cultural infrastructure of the Chicago area through flexible, multi-year core operating support
  2. To provide funding for special, time-limited projects and initiatives that benefits a set of arts organizations or the sector as a whole
  3. To support projects that contribute to civic life in Chicago

Over the last 14 years, MacArthur has conducted this work through partnerships with two Chicago funders of the arts: the Prince Charitable Trusts and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, which make grants on MacArthur’s behalf through special funds established for that purpose. These foundations are experienced in funding small arts groups and strengthening both their artistic programs and their management. The relationship allows MacArthur to expand its support to many more small to mid-sized arts groups in a meaningful and long term manner.

Our Strategic 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 citizens. Further, research has indicated that organizations benefit from both core operating support and targeted, project-based support and that these two forms of support are mutually reinforcing. The general support provides flexible, stable funding so that organizations can plan ahead and invest in new artistic directions, while the targeted, time limited support strengthens elements of these organizations and the sector as a whole.

Grantmaking Priorities

The arts and culture 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 (80%) is in the form of multi-year, core operating support to over 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 $52,500 to $100,000 per year (based on annual budget size) 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 $40,000 annually.

In reviewing proposals from arts groups, the Foundation and its partners consider:  

  • Quality of the organization’s artistic program
  • Strength of its board and staff leadership
  • Impact on the organization’s neighborhood, the city, or the region
  • Sizes and types of audiences served
  • Community and educational outreach activities

* About 20 percent of the annual arts and culture budget is devoted to projects and initiatives directed to specific problems and opportunities that will address the needs of a group of organizations by artistic discipline or  function (e.g., finance, marketing, space, etc) or the arts sector as a whole (e.g., research or tools to assess impact of the arts).

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; and 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. 


In addition to ongoing monitoring of individual grants and the sector as a whole, we conduct regular evaluations of the core support program every 5 years to ensure that the program remains relevant and valuable in its approach to strengthening the arts sector. In addition, the Foundation conducts regular evaluations of special time-limited programs such as the International Connections Fund and the Arts & Culture Loan Fund programs to better document the outcomes and impact of these time-limited efforts and the potential for program improvement.


Updated August 2017