Chicago Commitment

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

Our Strategy

Culture, Equity, and the Arts

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 equity. A vibrant creative sector helps individuals explore their passions, develop their identity and potential, confront challenging topics, and connect with one another.

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Civic Partnerships

Chicago’s civic landscape is notable for its broad network of philanthropic, corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations, and its rich history of collaboration between these entities to achieve shared goals. Civic partnerships build upon the collective assets of these leaders and organizations for greater impact.

MacArthur is a leader among local foundations, government agencies, research institutions, nonprofit community organizations, and private sector actors that mobilize collective assets to address pressing challenges or pursue timely opportunities. We work in close collaboration with our partners to support the projects or help solve the problems that community members want to address and the solutions they endorse. These include coordinated responses to the racial disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic and to gun violence in Chicago.

On occasion, 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.

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Vital Communities

We believe that a resilient and dynamic metropolitan area is dependent upon equitable development. The Vital Communities focus of our work stimulates development in neighborhoods by making early investments in response to community needs that contribute to economic growth. We support place-based economic development andcreative placemaking and placekeeping initiatives to improve the quality of life for individuals in neighborhoods that have experienced disinvestment. We also support organizations whose research and analysis informs socially beneficial and equitable development. 

In light of Chicago’s history, our place-based funding is primarily concentrated in neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. After a review of our strategy in 2022, which assessed the success of our efforts since 2016, we made refinements that we believe will help us achieve greater impact. Specifically, we narrowed the geographic footprint of our neighborhood-level economic development funding, increasing our investments in a smaller number of communities. These modifications enable us to deepen community partnerships, pursue greater cohesion across our approaches toward equity, and strengthen the capacity of organizations working in the smaller footprint.

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Advancing Leadership

Our goal is to promote and advance leaders who face or have faced adversity, discrimination, or prejudice to increase their representation across the civic sector; 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 areas, 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.

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Chicago skyline and surrounding neighborhoods

Chicago skyline and surrounding neighborhoods

Why We Support This Work

Chicago is a global city with vibrant, diverse neighborhoods and a strong civic culture. And yet systemic biases create unequal access to resources and opportunities for Black, Latine, Indigenous, Asian, LGBTQIA+, and disabled people and communities—especially when these multiple identities intersect. 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, which was originally developed in 2016-17, 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 and community perspectives. 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.

Consistent with the Foundation’s periodic review and refinement of grantmaking strategies, the Chicago Commitment examined its strategy throughout 2022 to ensure that as we emerge from the pandemic, our work directly contributes to building an equitable, vital, and dynamic Chicago. While Chicago has long experienced racial injustice, the COVID-19 pandemic affected Chicago’s Black and Latine communities at much higher rates than others and brought heightened attention to the inequities many Chicagoans have endured for generations.

Following the assessment of our program, we made refinements that we believe will help us achieve greater impact in partnership with our grant recipients, manifest our values and our commitment to the Just Imperative, and work in closer relationship with communities. Specifically, we narrowed the geographic footprint of some areas of our grantmaking to amplify our impact, and help harmonize our approaches in ways that are mutually reinforcing. These changes primarily affect our Vital Communities strand of work.

Our focus on people is pushing us to shift power to individuals outside the Foundation, inviting community leaders from a variety of sectors to advise us through participatory grantmaking initiatives. For example, under our Culture, Equity, and the Arts focus, multi-year general operating grants are now recommended to the Foundation by a diverse group of external advisors. In addition, we support movements like the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, in which individuals assert their power and influence as they affect the decisions that shape our city.

Our commitment to place is realized through investment in resident-driven economic development, creating Vital Communities. We strive to work in genuine partnership with community-based organizations, supporting their goals of local ownership, thriving corridors, and job creation by providing funds to advance the plans they have devised. Our grants also support organizations working in partnership with community-based leaders to address inequitable policies and systems, advocating for fundamental change that will overcome decades of segregation and disinvestment in Chicago’s Black, Latine, Indigenous, and Asian communities.

We are leaders and active participants in Civic Partnerships, helping to solve the city’s greatest challenges. To meet the moment we face collectively in the Chicago metropolitan area, these collaborations seek to address the history of racist policies and practices that created or contributed to today’s challenges, whether the effects of gun violence or the disparate racial impact of COVID-19.

Structural racism has prevented many leaders from being considered for new roles and opportunities. 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. Therefore, leadership advancement is embedded across all our work. Through initiatives like Leaders for a New Chicago, a partnership with the Field Foundation of Illinois, we provide direct support to individual leaders who bring a broad diversity of experience to their work. Each year, prior Leaders are invited to help select the new class, furthering the goal of shifting power outside of philanthropies.

While we have much to learn, as we form new partnerships to address Chicago’s challenges, we commit to adopting the lessons of prior initiatives—for example, by bringing the participatory process into both the strategic design and grantmaking of new funds and by seeking out community perspectives.

Expected Outcomes

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

Culture, Equity, and the Arts

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, diverse backgrounds, and other social boundaries; and
  • More Chicago-based arts and cultural organizations that demonstrate equitable and inclusive approaches and values.

Civic Partnerships

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
  • A model for civic partnerships that can be adapted and replicated elsewhere.

Vital Communities

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; and
  • MacArthur-supported projects that reflect communities’ stated desires for development.

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 place-based initiatives and organizations that provide infrastructure support to neighborhood

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

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.

Findings and analyses from evaluation activities are posted publicly as they become available.