Here at Illinois Humanities we’re just through our first round of grants with new guidelines, and wanted to share some observations.
First of all, thanks to all of the 90 groups that took the time to apply. It takes work, especially if you were asked to submit a full proposal. We recognize that – after all, we also raise money for our own programming, and regret not having more grant funds available.
On that note, a word of recognition to the groups whose fantastic projects we couldn’t support. Our grantmaking budget is simply too modest, and must ‘cover’ the entire state of Illinois, at a time when there are few statewide funders of the arts, culture and humanities. This statewide commitment is one we take very seriously. We received 90 proposals under our new Vision, Action and Multiplier categories, and in the end funded 13. That means there were 77 worthwhile projects that tell a lot about arts, culture and humanities groups in Illinois. From Alton, Bedford Park and Carbondale all the way to Palestine, Quincy and Rockford, groups pitched projects involving documentary films, jazz fests, teen civic engagement, international exchanges, ethnic music, oral histories, military museums and post-theater discussions. Together they paint a picture of a culturally vibrant state.
Part of the strong response this cycle was due to the fact that we worked hard to get the word out. We did one webinar and some 15 workshops and speaking engagements in Beardstown, Edwardsville, Harrisburg, the Quad Cities and other spots to hundreds of people representing scores of groups. We’ve also fielded well above 100 inquiries around grant ideas in the past year, with more than 30% including asking us to read a letter of inquiry or full proposal for feedback. That’s not a complaint, it’s our job. Don’t hesitate to reach out in the future, it’s part of what we’re here for.
In a word, considering the great work happening across the state, there is plenty of room for corporate support, for foundations, and for individuals to pitch in and help out in ways big and small in the area of public humanities and civic engagement. The rewards, as we well know, can be rich.
Now for the good part, the things we were able to support.
In the Vision grants category, meant to inspire planning and evaluation initiatives, we approved 4 projects totaling $7,000:
· The Chicago Literary Map – The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame ($2,000) Funding to support an online, interactive map plotting key points in Chicago’s literary history
· Reading in prison research – Chicago Books to Women in Prison ($1,000) Funding to evaluate how to better serve incarcerated women
· Development of an evaluation plan – Read/Write Library ($2,000) Funding to support assessment of Read/Write’s Neighborhood Pop Up Libraries program
· Personal Learning Conference – Eastern Illinois University ($2,000) Funding to support a one-day conference to inspire and educate professionals to promote lifelong learning
In the Action category, meant to inspire experiments in public humanities programming, audience engagement and the digital humanities, the 6 projects approved totaled $21,500:
· Alternative histories of labor – South Side Projections ($4,000) Funding to support screenings of documentaries on labor movements
· Prairieland Chautauqua – Morgan County Historical Society ($3,000) Funding to support the 18th annual Prairie Chautauqua, focused on the theme of the “Silver Screen”
· Art for Social Change – Oak Park Art League ($2,500) Funding to support a collaborative project between OPAL and Sarah’s Inn and Threshold social service agencies
· GoGallery – Galesburg Civic Art Center ($4,000) Funding to support an arts education outreach program placing docents in classrooms and interactive web component
· Robust Indigenes – American Indian Center ($4,000) Funding to support an oral history project, storytelling events and retrospective exhibit
· “What is America For?” – The Point magazine ($4,000) Funding to support a series of essays and public programs examining the American democratic process in the context of presidential elections
And finally in the Multiplier category, meant to bring groups together to think more ambitiously – around impacting regions or sectors, the following 3 projects totaling $37,000 were approved:
· Peer skill share – Forefront ($15,000) Funding to support statewide adoption of a platform for nonprofit capacity building
· Fusion Fest – Chicago Cultural Alliance ($12,000) Funding to support a citywide festival of cross-cultural ideas, art and dialogue
· People Saving Places – Landmarks Illinois ($10,000) Funding to support a partnership between LI, documentary film makers and the new app Vamonde to highlight how local groups are working to preserve places
We have high hopes for these projects, and will be reporting out on their success in the coming months.
Finally, we also learned from the questions that applying groups asked during the process. Here are some clarifying comments:
· Digital projects: Several people asked if all of the Action grants must have a strong digital component. The answer is that no, they don’t. While we certainly encourage groups to harness digital tools, this is not the sole priority of this funding category, just one of several.
· Media projects: We received inquiries from several documentary film makers whether support of media projects is still a priority. It most certainly is. Though we no longer state this explicitly by virtue of having a media category, supporting documentaries and media more broadly are priorities.
· Following our May 15 deadline for letters of inquiry, our own internal vetting process (including select groups submitting a full proposal) takes about 9 weeks. Therefore, projects shouldn’t be submitted for a May 15 deadline that begin before August 15th at the earliest. Same for our January 15th and September 15th deadlines.
We hope this helps. If you’ve got any additional questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Mark Hallett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 374-1555.