Chicago’s Cultural Treasures launched in December 2020 announcing several bold goals.
We vowed to achieve greater equity in funding art by supporting organizations that reflect the diversity of American culture. As a collaboration between the Ford Foundation, several local philanthropies, and IFF, we will do so by funding organizations whose mission is to facilitate the creation, preservation, and dissemination of art stemming from the traditions, leadership, and cultures of people of color.
We pledged to operate in a different manner, co-creating the initiative with arts and culture organizations and providing multi-year general operating support. We recognize that arts organizations—especially those that celebrate and preserve cultural traditions and those that are led by people of color—are facing unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, many have been underfunded for decades, facing financial struggles long before the pandemic.
We designed an initial process that will inform all that follows, inviting organizations to submit a letter of inquiry (LOI) that described their strengths and assets, as well as their current challenges. We received 148 submissions by the January 2021 deadline.
Fulfilling a commitment to openness and transparency, we are sharing with you what we learned from those submissions – and how we will develop the next phase of the initiative.
Finding #1: There are no “cultural deserts” in Chicago
First and foremost, there are no “cultural deserts” in the Chicago metropolitan area. The 148 organizations that responded to the LOI—the vast majority of which describe themselves as led-by and/or serving communities of color—are located in Chicago and the immediate suburbs. Approximate totals show that the South Side is home to 44 percent of the organizations that submitted LOIs, the West Side 20 percent, the North Side 28 percent, and the Loop 8 percent. These neighborhood-based arts organizations often serve as gathering spaces for their communities as well as centers of culture, and they are integrated into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
Finding #2: Chicago’s arts and culture community is diverse
Applicants represent a wide array of arts and cultural focus, organization budget size, longevity, and populations served.
Approximately two-thirds represent the performing arts; a quarter the visual arts; and the remainder provide arts services or physical arts spaces.
Organization budget size also varied widely, with the large majority being small and mid-size. A third of the submitters have budgets under $100,000 per year. Thirty-eight percent have annual budgets between $100,001 and $500,000. Eighteen percent have budgets between $500,001 and $1 million, and only 11 percent have budgets larger than $1 million per year.
Just over 40 percent of the submitting organizations have been in existence for a decade or more; the same number for less than a decade. For the remainder, the duration of existence was not clear.
Populations served by these organizations reflect the broad diversity of the metropolitan region. Of the organizations that described themselves as being rooted in one or more cultural traditions, 54 percent focus on Black culture; 42 percent Latino/a/x; 18 percent Asian; 14 percent Native American; and 13 percent Arab or Middle Eastern. These percentages add up to more than 100% because some groups described themselves as being rooted in more than one cultural tradition.
Finding #3: The priority needs of arts and culture groups span many topics
In addition to offering multi-year general operating support awards, Chicago’s Cultural Treasures will provide a variety of technical supports and capacity building opportunities to organizations. We asked for input in designing this element of the initiative to ensure that these opportunities respond to the needs voiced by our arts community. We received a long list of priorities from organizations, including:
This information will be invaluable as we determine the scope of support we can offer and who can offer technical assistance with cultural knowledge and sensitivity.
Last but certainly not least, we have pledged to adopt a participatory grantmaking model, drawing on residents, civic leaders, and artists to recommend grants for the organizations that they view as cultural treasures. This approach to grantmaking places power in the hands of the communities affected by funding decisions, rather than leaving it in the often opaque halls of philanthropy.
We invited individuals to nominate themselves or people whose skills and knowledge they admire to serve on a grantmaking committee. We are delighted and grateful to have a list of 34 nominated individuals representing many communities, backgrounds, and interests. IFF is now in the midst of designing a process that determines the optimal number of people to serve on the committee, and how to achieve a broad diversity of members whose common denominator is an appreciation for how art fits into the fabric of community.
Our next steps are to assemble the grantmaking committee to determine which of the organizations that submitted a LOI will be invited to apply for multi-year general operating support. Simultaneously, we will continue to develop plans for offering technical supports and capacity building opportunities to a broader set of organizations.
We are grateful to all who submitted LOIs and/or nominated themselves or others to serve on the grantmaking committee. We will continue to update you and the broader community on activities, plans, and what we are learning.
Please see our homepage for our most up to date timeline.
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