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Investing in Chicago’s 77 Unique Communities: A Summer Fellowship at the Arts & Business Council

By Brenna C. Cronin

“To love our city is to love every community and neighborhood that belongs to her.

We know that there is no right or perfect way to confront inequity… but we are willing

to take risks and become the accomplice Chicago’s many communities deserve.

Injustice impacts all of us… and there is too much at stake not to take action.”

—Kristin Larsen, Executive Director

My approach to finding a summer fellowship came from a lot of discernment about where my MSLCE learnings could be best amplified. As a Chicago native committed to the mentality that “Midwest is Best”, finding a fellowship in Chicago was important to me. Knowing that I was looking for something more tailored than a general internship, I sought out organizations that could provide specific experiences in Development and Nonprofit Leadership, my two focus areas. After an email to the Arts & Business Council, it appeared to be a perfect match. What I would learn about A&BC’s work would defy all expectations and provide an experience that felt meant-to-be.

To become disinvested in a community is to withdraw resources. To divest a community is to intentionally deprive them of those resources—of power, of rights, and of possessions. Despite best intentions and the efforts of so many different organizations, Chicago remains a racially segregated city. The Field Foundation’s Heat Maps point to these resource disparities and show how crime and poverty often go hand in hand. Our work must begin at looking at an issue holistically, acknowledging every piece of the disparity.

Through their intentional work in diversity, equity, and inclusion, the Arts & Business Council of Chicago (A&BC) aims to support the intersection of arts and business by strengthening nonprofit arts and cultural organizations. Through their “77 Communities Initiative” A&BC aims to engage with each of Chicago’s 77 unique neighborhoods. They achieve this through building relationships via their Business Volunteers for the Arts and On Board programs. Impact is demonstrated through the conversations had and relationships being built with local artisans and stakeholders. Partnerships with Chicago Public Libraries and the Chicago Park District engage those serving with full boots on the ground and remove any barriers to access for those looking to participate. Engaging with highly-qualified business professionals, A&BC readies these individuals to serve the hundreds of arts and culture organizations in the Chicago area with a holistic and equity-oriented lens.

My objectives this summer, beyond supporting the initiatives previously described, were as follows:

  • Support the Arts & Business Council of Chicago’s 77 Communities Initiative, working to identify and invest in art makers throughout Chicago’s 77 unique neighborhoods.
  • Assist with corporate partnership program opportunities.
  • Conduct comparison research on various Chicago family foundations and their arts and culture portfolios for future grant making opportunities.
  • Build relationships among arts, government, foundation, and business organizations by attending meetings with decision makers.
  • Provide insight on the smARTscope evaluation tool as it prepares to go to market, especially around biases.

This work is vitally important for the organization and incredibly meaningful for me. This fellowship was a direct correlation to concepts learned in many MSLCE classes, especially those that focused on nonprofit leadership and development. I highly recommend the Revenue Strategies, Cultural Nonprofits, Addressing Racism in the Arts, and the Arts, Public Purpose, and Policy courses to future students who want to pursue nonprofit leadership and development careers within the creative industries.

If there is anyone doing the work of interrupting community divestment, it’s the Arts & Business Council. I am grateful to be their fellow and look forward to seeing how their work reaches even more communities in the future.