Chicago Commitment

MacArthur has deep roots in Chicago. For more than 35 years, the Foundation has been committed to the city, its people, and its diverse neighborhoods.

We have invested more in the Chicago region than we have invested in any other place around the world: $1.2 billion in over 1,500 organizations and individuals across dozens of communities, from Albany Park to Bronzeville and Pullman, from Auburn-Gresham to Little Village, and from Cicero to Rogers Park. Over the years, MacArthur has thoughtfully and reliably made a contribution to sustaining Chicago’s strengths, building its resilience, and addressing its pressing problems.

In 2016, members of our Chicago Commitment team sought input and advice across the city as it considered new opportunities for local grantmaking, support and engagement. Contributors to these discussions have included representatives of organizations serving Chicago youth, programs helping individuals reenter their communities after time in custody, and groups providing human services. The discussions have also included community activists, developers working to enhance quality of life and expand opportunity in low-income neighborhoods, local foundation representatives, researchers, and leaders of arts and cultural organizations.

Information about programs and awards reflecting this input will be available in the coming months. 


Person in hand cuffs

Safety and Justice

Justice is a central tenet of the Foundation’s work. Locally, MacArthur supports efforts to prevent violence, reduce incarceration, and build trust between police and the communities they serve, as well as the effectiveness and legitimacy of the local criminal justice system overall. 

Violence Prevention

The Foundation supports efforts to reduce gun violence in Chicago, funding research and evaluations of interventions that seek to address violence, primarily through coordinated law enforcement and criminal justice-system responses, as well as efforts to test the effectiveness of promising strategies to prevent violence among at-risk youths.

We support Youth Guidance, whose program Becoming a Man works in schools with young men on ways to manage disagreements without resorting to violence. And we funded an independent evaluation of the program that demonstrated its effectiveness. Results show significant reductions in violence, a rise in school engagement, and a double-digit increase in timely graduation rates from high school for those in the program.

We have awarded grants to the Urban Warriors program of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, which deploys veterans with combat service in urban communities to counsel young people exposed to high levels of violence.

We supported the operations of and research and analysis related to the City of Chicago’s Violence Reduction Strategy. This approach analyzes social connections among gangs, shooters, and victims in order to help analysts understand which individuals are most likely to commit, or become a victim of, gun violence.

Working with other Chicago foundations, we supported The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, which provided a total of $500,000 in small grants to local community nonprofit organizations leading activities that promote community cohesion, foster constructive relationships between police and community residents, and help reduce violence.

Police Accountability

To redress police misconduct and the state of distrust between the police and minority communities, MacArthur joined with other local foundations to support the City’s Police Accountability Task Force. Philanthropic funding helped to ensure the independence of the Task Force’s work and its public dissemination. The comprehensive set of recommendations offers hope and a plan for improved police practice and rebuilding confidence in law enforcement. Again, with others, we are supporting extensive community engagement through the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability around the Task Force recommendations and accountability and oversight structures.

Criminal Justice Reform

Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local justice systems, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and where over-incarceration begins.

MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge aims to change how America thinks about and uses jails in the context of fairer, more effective local justice systems. Jails, in Chicago and elsewhere, are misused and overused, expensive, and exact tremendous human costs in suffering and alienation. While significant progress has been made, the Cook County jail remains overpopulated, working beyond its resources and struggling to offer mental health and substance abuse treatment that would be better provided elsewhere.

Our goal in Cook County and jurisdictions around the country is to make sure that only the right people are in jail, for the shortest appropriate period of time. We aim to help address structural racism and other injustices experienced by poor people and communities of color and create an atmosphere of supportive engagement between citizens and law enforcement.

Our focus on criminal justice builds on our Models for Change juvenile justice reform initiative, which helped Cook County and Illinois stay at the forefront of national efforts to change how the justice system treats young people in contact with the law. Models for Change supported government and court officials, legal advocates, educators, community leaders, and families to work together to ensure that kids who make mistakes are held accountable but also treated fairly throughout the juvenile justice process.

child at computer

Youth Opportunity and Education through Digital Media and Learning

Through an exploration of educational opportunities for youth, it became clear that much learning was happening out of school through digital media, often in informal settings, and that cultural institutions in Chicago could become a powerful network of learning experiences for them.  

As part of our Digital Media and Learning initiative, the YOUmedia teen learning space was established at the Harold Washington Library, and expanded to ten library branches across the city. At these sites, young people experiment with learning, interact with peers, and connect with mentors. Almost 90 percent of users are youth of color.

The Hive Chicago learning network takes this concept further, with the development of a web of 76 museums, universities, after-school programs, tech start-ups, and advocacy groups through which young people can explore their interests and gain skills in safe environments. We also support the Chicago City of Learning, which helps young people think about, pursue, and develop their interests through online and in-person experiences offered by organizations and agencies across the city. Participants can earn badges or credentials that provide evidence of their learning and new competencies.

The Digital Youth Network (DYN) is a key partner in the initiative and the creative force behind these three innovations. DYN also established a Connected Learning Innovation Hub in the Bronzeville community through shared space and programming partnerships with Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center and Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts that connects young people and their families to learning opportunities that support educational goals, including critical technical and digital literacies. 

Games have emerged as a powerful medium for learning. Through the University of Chicago, MacArthur supported the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, which creates digital stories, games, art projects, and computer programming that encourage youth engagement and support their emotional and social wellbeing. Students from high schools in South Shore, Humboldt Park, West Englewood, and others are participating.

In 2015, we supported the creation in Chicago of a new national nonprofit, Collective Shift.  Through its LRNG platform, it aims to support cities across the country to provide learning opportunities for youth as a pathway to success in higher education and the work world. In Chicago, LRNG is focusing on preparing youth for summer and future employment.

Community, Culture, and Civic Partnerships

A healthy city needs a strong and active civic sector serving the public good, with creative, energetic, and dedicated nonprofit organizations that test innovative approaches and meet people’s needs close to home.


Local community strength and vitality is the essential core of MacArthur’s commitment to our hometown.  Since our founding, we have invested in improving education and learning, increasing economic opportunity, advancing economic development, creating and preserving affordable housing, reforming the local justice system, and supporting local government, while holding it accountable to its mission to meet the needs and improve the lives of local residents. With our support, hundreds of local organizations have had significant impact in each of these areas.

Past efforts include support for:

The New Communities Program, led by LISC Chicago. With MacArthur and other resources, it supported nearly 300 organizations in low-income communities to develop and implement inclusive quality-of-life plans focused on economic development, youth engagement, housing, crime prevention, and more. The largest community development initiative in the country at the time, the New Communities Program approach was adopted by LISC throughout its network of U.S. cities. 

The Preservation Compact, a broad initiative that brings together public, private, and non-profit sector individuals and organizations to preserve the stock of affordable rental housing in Cook County threatened by foreclosure, demolition, conversion to condominium, and rising rents.

The Plan for Transformation, the largest, most ambitious redevelopment effort of public housing in the United States, with the goal of rehabilitating or redeveloping the entire stock of public housing in Chicago, much of it within new, mixed-income communities.

Other efforts include a five-year initiative on U.S. immigration policy, with a focus on improving immigrant integration in Illinois, research on immigration as a driver of competitiveness in the Midwest, and expansion of the immigration legal service infrastructure in Chicago, the suburbs, and downstate Illinois. The Foundation has also invested in organizations that engage in policy analysis and research across multiple domains, including migration, housing, criminal justice, economic development, state and local fiscal sustainability, and in improving opportunities for low-income people and families.

MacArthur continues to build on a long local history and commitment by investing in organizations that are addressing some of the city’s most pressing challenges as we consider the input and advice we received this year from many individuals and groups.  Information about programs and awards reflecting that input will be available in 2017.    

Arts and Culture

The Foundation has supported Chicago arts and culture organizations since it was first established. The arts add intrinsic value to the human condition, provoking questions, challenging assumptions, generating meaning, and creating beauty. The arts bring other powerful and practical benefits as well—building community, driving economic growth, and fostering civic pride. The arts enable young people to pursue their passions and develop critical skills in safe spaces with support from caring adults.

MacArthur is the largest private funder of arts and culture in Illinois, providing resources each year to more than 300 arts and culture organizations of all kinds, from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Art Institute to iconic local institutions like the DuSable Museum of African American History, Black Ensemble Theatre, and the National Museum of Mexican Art to storefront theaters such as A Red Orchid Theater and small dance companies like The Seldoms. The Foundation works with two partners, the Prince Charitable Trusts and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, relying on their expertise and close connections to smaller arts and culture organizations. Our grantees, large and small, reach out across the city with programs for young people, the elderly, and the public schools.

MacArthur’s Arts and Culture Loan Fund provides low-interest loans to small and mid-sized
arts organizations that find it difficult to access capital to address the seasonality of resources, or to expand and undertake new programming.

Through our International Connections Fund, which has awarded grants to 50 Chicago-area cultural organizations for exchanges and collaborations with their peers in more than 35 nations, we help ensure that Chicago is part of a global cultural community.

In 2016, all MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions went to small and mid-sized Chicago arts and culture organizations.

Civic Partnerships

The Foundation often is called on to help fund important civic projects, and does so with pride. We made a commitment to The Barack Obama Presidential Center, supported the National Park Foundation’s effort to establish a visitor’s center and educational programming at the Pullman National Monument, funded the MLK Chicago Living Memorial, backed efforts to ensure Chicago communities would benefit in the bid to attract the Olympics, and contributed to the development of Millennium Park.

family entering a house

Bringing Financial Capital to the Social Sector

Many Chicago nonprofit organizations and social enterprises that are well positioned to help build a better future for our region lack sufficient financial capital to deliver the effective services, programs, and products that communities and their residents need. Recent research found an unmet need for financial capital across many segments of the region’s social sector, totaling approximately $100 million. This is expected to rise to $400 million or more in the years ahead. Impact investments help bring this capital to organizations that can put it to good use serving community needs.

Benefit Chicago

In response to this need, MacArthur, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Calvert Foundation created Benefit Chicago in 2016.  This collaboration aims to bring $100 million, including $50 million from MacArthur and up to $50 million from notes issued by Calvert, in new capital to organizations to accelerate their efforts to address key priorities throughout the Chicago region, such as education and child care, access to healthy food, quality affordable housing, energy conservation, job creation and training, and more. Resources will be invested by a new fund created by MacArthur that will work through local intermediaries and directly with nonprofit groups and social enterprises to help them expand, provide training, and create jobs.  The Chicago Community Trust chairs an advisory committee that will help inform investment strategy.

Other Impact Investments

In addition to Benefit Chicago, MacArthur has more than $60 million in active impact investments in Chicago, including in expert intermediary organizations, like IFF, the Chicago Community Loan Fund, and Neighborhood Housing Services, which offer capital to social enterprises, entrepreneurs, housing developers, community development organizations, and for individual home purchases.

Response to Foreclosure Crisis

At the height of the 2008 financial downturn, Chicago saw a wave of foreclosures that undid years of progress toward more equitable, affordable home ownership. MacArthur responded by investing $42 million in foreclosure prevention and mitigation efforts in local neighborhoods. Funding helped provide financial counseling for homeowners and make new mortgage refinancing products available.

When Second Federal Savings Bank failed, a $15 million impact investment enabled Self-Help Federal Credit Union and The Resurrection Project to keep open an historic neighborhood financial institution with deep roots in immigrant communities. It continues to provide mortgages and credit to community residents through branches in Little Village, Archer Heights, and Cicero.  

Community Engagement

In addition to our grantmaking and impact investments in Chicago, we regularly organize public events, bringing distinguished speakers, films, and performances to the city to share insights and experience and draw public attention to critical issues.

MacArthur’s staff members in the United States live in the city of Chicago and surrounding communities. They are involved in a wide array of activities, including volunteering and serving on boards of charitable and educational organizations.

MacArthur’s offices are in the historic Marquette Building. Completed in 1895, the 17-story building is one of Chicago’s earliest skyscrapers, and an example of the renowned Chicago School of Architecture. We were pleased to support its restoration and preservation and maintain an exhibit in the lobby area that features information about the building’s architecture and the work and history of the Foundation.

Our Chicago Strategy

With its many strengths and assets, Chicago faces a complex set of challenges, including violence, economic disparity, racial inequality, and inequitable access to opportunity.

This is the urgent context within which we are determining next steps for what we support in Chicago. The Chicago Commitment team is consulting widely with a broad cross-section of individuals and organizations, friends and critics alike, for input on opportunities for constructive action for philanthropy. The team is confident this process will yield continuing support to some of the important efforts MacArthur currently funds, and additional investments in new priorities that reflect our city’s changing environment and pressing needs.

Our goal for MacArthur in Chicago is an approach that builds on lessons from past investments, and captures the opportunities and addresses the daunting challenges in Chicago today. The strategy will take the long view, acknowledging that true reform requires time and structural change. The Chicago program will collaborate with other individuals and organizations in the public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors, whose collective actions are essential to achieving meaningful change.

As we focus the work of the Foundation for greater impact, our commitment to Chicago remains firm. Our loyalty, energy, and support for the city, the region, and all of its people is undiminished. We are committed to making Chicago a place that truly works for all.

Updated December 2016


Portrait of Stephanie Platz

Stephanie Platz

Managing Director, Programs
Portrait of Tara Magner

Tara Magner

Director, Chicago Commitment
Portrait of Craig Howard

Craig Howard

Director, Community & Economic Development
Portrait of Allison Clark

Allison Clark

Associate Director, Impact Investments
Portrait of Janice A. Dunbar

Janice A. Dunbar

Grants Manager
Portrait of Cate A. Fox

Cate A. Fox

Senior Program Officer
Portrait of Soledad McGrath

Soledad McGrath

Program Officer
Portrait of Tawa Mitchell

Tawa Mitchell

Program Officer
Portrait of Karen S. Hott

Karen S. Hott

Team Administrator
Portrait of Louise Powell

Louise Powell

Team Coordinator
Portrait of Emily B. Friedman

Emily B. Friedman

Associate General Counsel

Media Contact

Portrait of Kristen Mack

Kristen Mack

Communications Officer

Evaluation Contact

Portrait of Joanna Cohen

Joanna Cohen

Program Officer