As a longtime grantor working to strengthen funding and infrastructure for humanities work statewide, Illinois Humanities strives to meet the needs of the moment through impactful, equitable, and partner-centered grant making. That’s why the organization launched a new funding opportunity in the fall of 2022: General Operating Grants.
“Time and again we heard from our grantee partners that general operating support would change the way they utilize funding in a very impactful way,” said Mark Hallett, director of grants programs. “It was clear this should be the next step in Illinois Humanities’ grantmaking work.”
General operating grants provide unrestricted funding that organizations can allocate with more flexibility and freedom. Rather than being limited to funding a specific project or initiative, money can be spent wherever an organization needs it most. For organizations of varying development, size, and staffing, flexibility is critical – and far more impactful.
“General operating grants are intended to enable organizations to focus on advancing their missions, rather than delivering on a specific project,” said Gabrielle Lyon, executive director of Illinois Humanities.
General Operating Grants are part of Illinois Humanities’ focus on equity and increased sustainability for humanities organizations throughout Illinois. The 14 recipients of the first ever General Operating Grants represent a spectrum of humanities organizations around the state.
The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston is a longtime grantee partner which previously received project-based and COVID-19 relief funding before Illinois Humanities introduced its general operating grants.
“We are extremely appreciative of unrestricted funding,” said Kim Vigue, executive director of the Mitchell Museum. “Unrestricted funds help us to cover some of the less appealing expenses such as payroll, administrative costs, and utilities.”
The museum has big plans for 2023: A new exhibit, “No Rest: The Epidemic of Stolen Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2Spirits,” that opened this January; the launch of a food sovereignty initiative; an expansion of its Indigenous Medicine Garden; and more. With a General Operating Grant from Illinois Humanities, the Museum can utilize the funds however will make the most impact toward their mission.
“This grant will allow us to continue our collaborations that increase the visibility of Native peoples and elevate Native voices through educational public programming,” said Vigue.
The REAL Youth Initiative is another nonprofit with a longstanding relationship with Illinois Humanities. Co-founder and co-director Denzel Burke is a Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Award winner and frequent collaborator with our Envisioning Justice program. The initiative is based in Chicago, and provides fellowships, educational programs, and peer network opportunities for young people incarcerated in Illinois.
Since its founding, REAL received project-based support through Envisioning Justice grants. Unrestricted funding through a general operating grant came at a critical time. The REAL Youth Initiative has faced unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic with programs frequently interrupted by lockdowns.
“Prisons go on lockdowns for weeks,” said Burke, who founded the organization with co-director Destine Phillips while incarcerated in a juvenile facility in 2018. “This not only disrupts our ability to remain in contact with young people, but also further traumatizes young people in our program and affects their physical and mental well-being.”
An unrestricted grant will enable REAL to allocate funding between their various initiatives and programs at Illinois Youth Centers in Chicago, St. Charles, and Warrenville, such as the Renaldo Hudson Reentry Fellowship and the REAL Talk Revolutionary Education Series.
“It all comes down to the mission: we want to see our partners’ work thrive, and we want to see the humanities thrive, so we’ll continue to evolve,” said Hallett. “As more grantors like Illinois Humanities take steps toward more equitable grantmaking, our impact will continue to multiply.”
General Operating Grants Recipients
- Pana Historical Society ($5,000) – Pana, Ill.
- Cicero Independiente ($5,000) – Cicero, Ill.
- Contratiempo ($5,000) – Chicago, Ill.
- Liberation Journeys ($5,000) – Blue Island, Ill.
- Mitchell Museum of the American Indian ($5,000) – Evanston, Ill.
- National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial ($5,000) – Chicago, Ill.
- Strategy for Access Foundation ($5,000) – Chicago, Ill.
- REAL Youth Initiative (Fiscal sponsor: Youth Network Council; $5,000) – Chicago, Ill.
- Royalton Public Library District ($5,000) – Royalton, Ill.
- Lawrence County Illinois Historical Society ($5,000) – Lawrenceville, Ill.
- Western Illinois Museum ($5,000) – Macomb, Ill.
- Oregon Public Library District ($5,000) – Oregon, Ill.
- Abe Lincoln Project ($5,000) – Pittsfield, Ill.
- Les Amis du Fort de Chartres ($5,000) – Prairie du Rocher, Ill.