Who were the grantees? How much funding did they receive?
Our grant award announcement includes a full list of grantees as well as award sizes, selection process, timing, and other details.


What were the funding criteria?
Our 2021 Grants Program screened applicants for the following criteria:

  • BIPOC Representation/Focus – A historic and current pattern of the organization being led by, featuring, and serving a specific/defined community of color
  • BIPOC Mission – A focus on stewarding and sustaining artistic and/or cultural traditions rooted in a specific/defined community of color and elevating awareness of that community’s contribution to American culture
  • Reach – Effectively reaching the specific/defined community of color it serves
  • Role in Community – An indispensable anchor for the specified/defined community of color contributing to the history, culture, vibrancy, and identity of that community in greater Chicago
  • History of Community Impact – Significant history of impact within their specified/defined community of color
  • Potential for Future Impact – Strong potential for future impact within their specified/defined community of color

These criteria focus on Chicago-area arts and culture groups that are not only led by and serving BIPOC-identified individuals and communities, but also elevating artforms rooted in BIPOC traditions and history. There are many extraordinary groups who do not meet all of our criteria, and we don’t claim that our list of grantees represents a comprehensive list of the numerous cultural treasures across the City of Chicago. But we do hope that our Grants Program elevates organizations that focus on BIPOC-rooted artforms that have been historically unsupported or underfunded, and are therefore at risk of being lost.


Why BIPOC arts?
Actors, artists, activists. Buskers, ballet, blues. Ceramics, choral, culture. Drama, dreamers, drummers. Electric slide, experimental, ephemeral. Footwork, freestyle, festivals. Gospel, galleries, graffiti. House, hip hop, harmony. Improv, innovators, imagination. Jazz, jig, Jarabe. Kabuki, kitsch, kinetic. Lambada, limelight, lyricist. Murals, modernism, MCs. Narrator, novelists, natural. Opera, outsider, orchestra. Playwrights, poets, pow wow. Quattro, quality, queer. Recital, reverb, Ragamala. Sculptors, stages, salsa. Teatro, tempo, thespian. Upstage, understudy, Ukiyo-e. Vibrato, vignette, voice. Wardrobe, wigs, watercolors. Xylophonists, X (marks the spot!). Youth, YOLO! Zen.

Chicago Cultural Treasures embraces and reflects all this and more, representing a diverse ecosystem that defines the vitality and vibe of the city from A to Z.

Chicago is ideal for participating in the Ford Foundation’s America’s Cultural Treasures Regional Challenge. The racial and ethnic demographic composition of Chicago is roughly one-third white, Black, and Latinx each (less than 7 percent of the population is either Asian or Indigenous) and its constellation of arts and cultural institutions of color reflect the rich diversity of the city’s population. Its timeline of cultural influences on the nation can be easily tracked, from the birth of gospel music in the 1930s; the explosion of Black literature in the 1940s; Chicago’s Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s; the Latinx mural movement of the 1970s and 1980s; and the rise of house music, spoken word poetry, and urban dance forms in the 1990s to today have all reverberated across the globe.

Many of Chicago’s cultural organizations of color serve as important neighborhood anchors. These institutions sustain cultural traditions and identities, build community, provide access to the arts in all neighborhoods, and help ensure that experiences and stories are shared and heard.

Although these and many other organizations of color are vital to the cultural life of the city, they remain undercapitalized and have been impacted disproportionately by a long history of economic and racial segregation. Chicago’s Cultural Treasures hopes to provide Chicago’s diverse institutions with meaningful support focused on their long-term sustainability.


How were funding decisions made?
Our process was designed to be both community-based and participatory – our way of ceding power to the very communities affected by funding decisions. Those funding decisions were made by a Grant Committee comprised of a diverse group of community members, civic leaders, and artists (not paid staff at philanthropic institutions). These individuals were selected through an open nomination process earlier in 2021, and their commonality was an appreciation for how art fits into the fabric of community.

The Grant Committee was responsible for creating criteria for who would be funded, and by what amounts, and then deliberating those decisions together. While no group can be fully representative of the community – whether that community is defined by geography, race, ethnicity, or a shared experience – our hope is that this approach was more equitable and inclusive than many past arts philanthropy efforts.

The identities of the Grant Committee members were not known to the public, the applicants, or our funders until after funding decisions were finalized. You can now read their bios here.


How are you going to measure the progress/success/outcomes/impact of these grant awards?
Part of the job of an equity initiative is to interrupt the traditional models, assumptions, and ways of working. (And, hopefully, those interruptions will lead to disruptions!) In that spirit, success will not be defined for these organizations, but by these organizations. We recognize that each grantee is on their own journey and will need to define success differently, and we will not limit ourselves to standard metrics that could reinforce historical inequities.


I didn’t hear about this until now. Will there be another round of grants in the future? What else are you doing with the money? How can I get involved?
This Grants Program is only one aspect of the overall Chicago’s Cultural Treasures initiative; we will also offer capacity building and technical assistance programs, which will be co-created alongside Chicago-based arts groups in the near future. It is possible those programs will include other grant opportunities, but there will not be another round of funding for this Grant Program with these criteria.

As with any equity approach, it’s important to be responsive to the needs of the community; that’s why we can’t pre-commit exactly where every dollar will go until we’ve had a chance to engage with the community and better understand their needs and goals. The best way to stay informed of future opportunities – grants and otherwise – is to sign up for our mailing list below.


I heard MacKenzie Scott gave Chicago’s Cultural Treasures $8 million recently. What are you doing with that money?
We learned of this generous new support in June 2021, just as the Grant Committee was finalizing its grantmaking decisions. Because of the higher-than-anticipated number of eligible grantees (we anticipated 20-30, but ended up making awards to 40), we did immediately move some of Ms. Scott’s donation into the Grant Program (increasing total giving from $13.75 to $14.42 million). The remainder of Ms. Scott’s donation will support our co-created programming that we are still working to design in collaboration with the arts community.


Who can participate in other aspects of this initiative?
Generally, this initiative welcomes all arts and culture organizations in the Chicago area that are enabling the creation, preservation, and dissemination of art stemming from BIPOC traditions, leadership, and culture. This four-year initiative hopes to bolster long-term financial resilience and sustainability, and it is not limited to those organizations in financial distress. Please sign up for our mailing list to be notified of opportunities.


Have a question you don’t see listed? We hope to add to this list regularly. Contact us so we can respond to your questions.

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