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Chicago Commitment

Our Goal

Investing in people, places, and partnerships to advance racial equity and build a more inclusive Chicago.

Why We Support This Work

For more than 40 years, we have been committed to Chicago, its people, its diverse neighborhoods, its strength and vitality. We have invested more in the Chicago region than in any other place around the world: over $1.4 billion in more than 1,600 organizations and individuals. We believe our goal requires support for Civic Partnerships; Culture, Equity, and the Arts; and Vital Communities. In each of these areas, we also support leaders to align their energies and resources for greater impact.

We want more people, particularly from historically marginalized communities, to see their power and influence affect the decisions that shape our city. We invest in resident-driven economic development in places, to create vital communities. We join peers to create civic partnerships, helping to solve the city’s greatest challenges. We ensure all Chicagoans can experience the city’s vibrant arts and cultural offerings.

We are committed to facilitating connections between people who share our goals, helping to amplify the voices of individuals who are not always heard, and expanding the capacity of organizations and leaders to achieve their missions. We seek to promote and advance diverse leaders, whose influence will inform and improve decision making across the city. With greater access to our collective civic, cultural, and economic resources, all Chicagoans can help advance racial equity and build a more inclusive Chicago.

Chicago is a global city with vibrant, diverse neighborhoods and a strong civic culture. And yet Chicago’s legacy and continued practice of systemic racism creates unequal access to resources and opportunities for communities of color. In addition, women and individuals who have low income, are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, or intersex (LGBTQIA+), are disabled, or senior citizens have also been harmed by systemic policies and practices that inhibit their access to resources and opportunities. Importantly, people who live at the intersection of these multiple identities face even greater barriers to access and influence.

Established systems prevent equitable access to opportunities and resources, contributing to racial and economic segregation, unequal rates of economic mobility, and many other racial and ethnic disparities. These factors ultimately affect the overall vitality of the Chicago region. A resilient and dynamic Chicago region is dependent upon a more equitable Chicago, where every Chicagoan has the opportunity to prosper and contribute to their community and where Chicago’s diverse voices are elevated, recognized, respected, and included.

Our approach reflects advice we received from conversations with individuals, organizations, and civic leaders across the city and suburbs, sharing a wide array of experience and expertise on local issues. Our areas of focus were designed with the priorities of Chicagoans in mind—taking heed of what residents and leaders believe are the most urgent concerns and promising solutions. We will continue to reflect openly and honestly about progress and challenges as we pursue our goal for the Chicago metropolitan area.

Our Approach


We provide support to arts and culture organizations and to arts-centered organizations, meaning that art is integral to executing its 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 communities, such as people with disabilities and people on the LGBTQIA+ continuum. A vibrant creative sector helps individuals explore their passions, develop their identity and potential, confront challenging topics, and connect with one another. We support organizations directly and through two intermediary partners, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Prince Charitable Trusts. 
More about support for the creative sector ›



Chicago's civic landscape is notable for its broad network of philanthropic, corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations. Civic partnerships build upon the collective assets of these organizations and leaders for greater impact.

MacArthur is part of a local network of foundations, government agencies, research institutions, nonprofit community organizations, and private sector actors that mobilize collective assets to develop and strengthen Chicago’s ability to address pressing challenges or pursue timely opportunities. These include coordinated responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and to gun violence in Chicago.

From time to time, MacArthur may address a timely or unique opportunity, such as ensuring an accurate count throughout Illinois in the decennial census; the establishment of a Chicago Public Library Branch at the Obama Presidential Center; or the acquisition of the historic Ebony and Jet photographic archives.

More about Civic Partnerships ›



We have supported neighborhood revitalization in the Chicago metropolitan area since our founding. MacArthur has learned important lessons from four decades of investing in constructive community change—for example, the importance of investments in individual programs and projects and in investments that strengthen neighborhoods.

The Vital Communities focus of the Chicago Commitment’s work stimulates development in historically marginalized neighborhoods by making early investments in response to community needs that contribute to economic growth. We support place-based economic development and creative placemaking initiatives in order to improve market conditions and the quality of life for individuals in neighborhoods that have experienced disinvestment. In light of Chicago’s history, our place-based funding is likely be concentrated in African-American and Latinx neighborhoods on the South and West Sides; however, other historically marginalized communities affected by segregation and other forms of systemic racism will not be excluded from eligibility.

More about Vital Communities ›
Vital Communities Grant Guidelines ›



Structural racism has prevented many leaders from being considered for leadership roles. Other forms of discrimination and classism hinder the ability of some leaders to gain recognition for the wisdom and expertise they have earned through other means. Our goal is to promote and advance leaders from historically marginalized backgrounds to manage organizations; increase their representation and foster their ability to influence decisions; and use their leadership to advance policies and practices that contribute to a more equitable Chicago. The Chicago Commitment supports leadership advancement within the three focus areas described above: Culture, Equity, and the Arts; Vital Communities; and Civic Partnerships. Within these sectors, we seek to advance equity by expanding access to a wide range of leadership opportunities and by fostering conditions that recognize and support people who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to leadership positions.

More about Advancing Leadership ›

Expected Outcomes

In the long run, the Chicago Commitment will demonstrate the following outcomes through each of our three areas of grantmaking:


We expect Culture, Equity, and the Arts programming to result in:

  • Increased inclusive and culturally relevant arts experiences that reflect Chicago’s diverse communities and that present a variety of perspectives;
  • Increased arts experiences that connect people across neighborhoods, ages, racial groups, ethnicities, and other social boundaries;
  • More Chicago-based arts and cultural organizations that demonstrate equitable and inclusive approaches and values; and
  • A network of arts organizations and arts-centered organizations that have a shared learning and action agenda that addresses longstanding challenges, including racial segregation and inequitable access to artistic and cultural experiences.



We expect Civic Partnership programming to result in:

  • More grantees, community leaders, civic organizations, and funders working in coordination to address urgent and timely issues; 
  • Increased learning within partnerships about the issues they address and potential solutions;
  • Effectively combining resources and building on assets to create a sustainable infrastructure to address urgent issues; and
  • Creating a model for civic partnerships that can be adapted and replicated elsewhere.



We expect Vital Communities programming to result in:

  • Increased interest in, and more resources and capital for, new development in targeted areas;
  • Expanded networks across organizations, sectors, and leaders to influence community and economic development;
  • MacArthur-supported projects that reflect communities’ stated desires for development; and

Funding Priorities

Culture, Equity, and the Arts ›
Reflecting diverse creative sector voices and sustaining the creative life of the city

Civic Partnerships ›
Leading or participating in local partnerships with civic leaders and organizations to address critical or timely challenges facing the city

Vital Communities ›
Investing targeted resources in a small number of organizations focused on place-based initiatives, promising new ventures and regional field support

Advancing Leadership ›
Within the three funding areas above, advancing equity by expanding access to leadership opportunities and by supporting people who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to leadership positions

Measurements & 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 advancing racial equity and building a more inclusive Chicago.  


Findings and analysis from evaluation activities will be published as they become available.


Updated July 2020

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