Listening to and Seeking Guidance from Local Advisors
Tara Magner, Director, Chicago Commitment, discusses how we work with external advisors and participatory grantmakers.
Since the creation of the Chicago Commitment team in 2016, we have sought the advice and input of leaders from a wide array of communities, sectors, organizations, and geographies across the Chicago metropolitan area. These valuable conversations informed the development of our strategy for grantmaking and continue to influence the ways in which we operate.
Our engagement has been both formal — from feedback sessions and site visits — to more informal, casual conversations. To ensure we are learning about organizations with which we are unfamiliar, we invite nonprofit representatives to nominate peers for awards and grants. In all of these interactions, we endeavor to listen with care and to fully consider requests, compliments, and critiques of our practices.
Two of the more formal ways that we invite input to our work is through relationships with external advisors and participatory grantmakers.
External advisors are individuals representing different fields and areas of experience who advise us on our strategy and implementation of our work. In an effort to expand our networks, we strive to identify people to serve in this role who do not have close ties to MacArthur. And we are careful to avoid conflicts of interest, meaning that current grantees cannot play this role. We invite individuals who will speak with candor, hold us accountable, and push us to keep racial equity at the center of our work.
We typically have four or five external advisors at a time. External advisors are paid consultants. They serve for one-year terms with the possibility of renewal and with periodic rotation to ensure we are hearing fresh voices.
Participatory grantmakers assist us in selecting grant recipients for our Culture, Equity, and the Arts program. Each year, we invite between eight and twelve diverse Chicagoans to serve in this capacity. They represent a range of racial and ethnic groups, life experiences, and careers in a variety of sectors, including the arts, media and journalism, community development, and nonprofit programming. Their professional backgrounds have ranged from early career to retired.
The participatory grantmakers, who are also paid consultants, review applications for multi-year general operating support under our criteria for Culture, Equity, and the Arts. After assigning a preliminary score to each application, they engage in a lengthy discussion, ultimately proposing a slate of grants to MacArthur staff and leadership. To date, we have made a grant to each of the organizations they recommended. Like external advisors, we ask participatory grantmakers to serve in the role on a rotating basis, in this case typically on a three-year cycle, and ensure that there are no conflicts of interest.
We pledge to release the names of our formal advisors periodically, both to thank and acknowledge them and to be in line with our commitment to openness and transparency. The following individuals, each of whom agreed to be listed publicly, have advised us in one or more capacity since 2017:
Maree G. Bullock
Vice President, The Alford Group
Janet Carl Smith
Former Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs
Principal & Founder, CoveyGroup
Chair & Associate Director, Jazz Studies, The Juilliard School
President & CEO, Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative; President of the Chicago Police Board
Interdisciplinary artist and educator; Associate Professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Co-Founder and Executive Director, National Impact, City Bureau
Social Justice Artist and CEO/Co-founder of Folded Map, NFP; Co-Founder, Englewood Arts Collective; Co-Founder, Resident Assc. of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.)
Leona Bevis/Marguerite Haynam Professor in Community Development, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western University
At the time, a Chicagoan and civic entrepreneur
CEO & Co-Founder, Embarc
Author & Journalist
Executive Committee Member, Chicago Community Trust; Senior Advisor, Corporate Coalition of Chicago
Vice President, Global Philanthropy, Head of The Fellowship Initiative, JP Morgan Chase & Co.
Director, Arts Programming & Engagement, Indiana University Northwest
Dolores Ponce de León
Independent Consultant, Chicago
STAGE Managing/Producing Director, Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago
Arts Program Officer, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
We are grateful to these individuals and all the others who have shared their views and ideas with us.