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How can we better serve arts and culture grantseekers? Can they easily assess whether they align with our program guidelines and eligibility? Do they know if it is a worthwhile use of their time to pursue support? Is our process clear? Are we being as accessible, transparent, and otherwise helpful as possible? These are the questions the Driehaus Foundation asked first when we set out to refine the Arts and Culture funding guidelines.

Next, we reflected on conversations over the past few years with grantseekers who believed they met the eligibility requirements but did not. From there we identified the need to communicate the why, what, and how of the Driehaus Arts and Culture program more effectively. That led to field research (for example, finding out how other arts service funders talk about the work they support) in summer 2022, multiple drafts, and – in between the drafts – numerous discussions among the Driehaus arts staff and then members of our broader team.

An advisory group of representatives from six Chicago-based cultural organizations, who we compensated for their participation, played a pivotal role in the final shaping of the newly refined guidelines in summer and fall 2022. We sought diversity amongst advisory group members in as many ways as possible, from creative discipline to race to age and more. (None were funded by Driehaus Arts and Culture at the time.) The input and feedback of these individuals was invaluable. Our sincerest thanks goes to Deeply Rooted Productions, Definition Theatre Company, Full Spectrum Features, Haitian American Museum of Chicago, Hyde Park Jazz Festival, and Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center for their participation.

It was especially important to ask actual grantseekers because the MacArthur and Driehaus foundations sunsetted our 20-year funding partnership in 2022 that, in its final year, provided support to nearly 200 local arts and culture groups. We anticipated many of those grantees would seek to establish a new relationship with us through our separate Driehaus Arts and Culture program.

The Foundation started 2023 with the new refined guidelines as well as what we believe is more transparent information about our inquiry and application process. The guideline changes are not a departure from what the program has supported since 2014 nor is the inquiry process materially different. Instead, we hope both offer context and greater clarity for grantseekers.

Nick Wylie and Ed Marszweski of Public Media Institute (PMI), a group Driehaus recently invited to apply, said about their organization’s experience as a grantseeker, “The Foundation’s new information made it easy to see the ways in which PMI aligned with the guidelines and gave us realistic expectations about the timeframe and steps for consideration. We also so appreciated the opportunity to strategize with Foundation staff over the course of the process about which aspects of our work make the best case for support. We found Driehaus so helpful in helping us to recognize, examine, and amplify the ways that we serve arts organizations in the region.”

For more than 30 years, the Driehaus Foundation has funded work that sustains and advances Chicago’s cultural infrastructure, helping enable creative endeavors to thrive. Our commitment to the local arts ecosystem continues in 2023 and beyond through the Driehaus Arts and Culture funding program.

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