Supporting arts and cultural work in rural communities and small towns.
Foreground Rural Initiative Grants, part of the Foreground Rural Initiative, consist of general, unrestricted grants of $5,000 for eligible individuals and $10,000 for eligible organizations engaged in cultural work in rural Illinois communities. This grant opportunity is not currently accepting applications.
Grants Information and Guidelines
One of the core strategies of Foreground Rural Initiative project – a three-year project that supports community building through strategic collaborations in rural communities across Illinois – is to partner with rural individuals and organizations through a combination of grant-making, capacity building, and co-created programming. If you are working in a rural community in Illinois, this initiative might be of interest to you!
Basics: The grants opportunity consists of General Operating (unrestricted) grants of $10,000 to groups and $5,000 to individuals doing cultural work in rural communities in Illinois.
What do we mean by ‘rural’?: Ah, now there’s a good question. We have included our working definition of a rural organization below. Do you consider your Illinois community rural, but on some fine point it does not fit in here? Reach out to us and make the case!
Eligibility: What kind of groups are eligible? Here’s where it gets interesting. Certainly humanities, cultural, and arts groups qualify. But so do public libraries, public high schools, chambers of commerce, civic groups, groups doing economic development, and others, providing that cultural work is an area they value and consider a core part of their current strategy. Applicants must be tax exempt organizations (though not necessarily 501c3) and individuals based in the state of Illinois. (Note that for-profit businesses are not eligible for direct grants, though they may certainly be partners in this work!)
Criteria: We held listening sessions in late March with a number of leaders from rural communities across the state, and one of the main messages we heard was that cultural work helps to lift communities, and can be a major impetus for sparking hope, connecting people, community building, and economic development. So if your organization engages in cultural work or partners with others who do, and is connected to this sort of work, you might explore applying. The rubric we plan to use to gauge applications considers a group’s commitment to cultural work, its connection to community, its track record in inspiring civic engagement, its commitment to historically under-resourced communities, and its ongoing partnerships and willingness to partner with others. Remember that it is not necessary that one organization does it all (after all, who does?), but at least that applicants aspire to partner with others who bring some of the other pieces to the table.
What do you mean by ‘community building’? In many historically under-resourced communities, there is a strong need to bring people and organizations together to help shore up history – and help people to imagine what a culturally and civically vibrant future might look like. This often requires bringing people together from across generations, across ethnic differences, and across disciplines. We are interested in these areas, and the role that cultural work – in the arts, in the humanities – plays in furthering this creative work.
Partnerships: With this in mind, we are hoping to select as many as tax-exempt nonprofits and individuals as grantee partners. With this pool of partners, we plan to share capacity building resources and other opportunities.
Hubs: From this initial pool of 10 grantees, Illinois Humanities will select a smaller group (likely two tax-exempt nonprofit partners) to collaboratively provide co-produced programming for their community over the coming two years. We are describing these more intensive partners as ‘Hubs.’
Timeline:The application deadline is Monday, August 15, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. CST. We hope to notify applicants of awards by September 15, 2022. In October and November we will organize check-ins with grantee partners to learn more about their work and the communities they work in and explore further programmatic partnerships.
Apply: The application is similar to the General Operating grant application used by Illinois Humanities in other grants offerings. To access the individual application and the organizational application, click here. For a PDF of the application forms, click here for individuals and here for organizations.
The following is a list of project ideas meant to illustrate the types of programming IH might fund through Foreground grants. The applicant might be a cultural group, history museum, high school, library, faith-based group, chamber of commerce, economic development group, or even an individual.
Starting a book club/poetry reading circle for youth to read and discuss books/poems that relate to issues they are grappling with. Examples might include mental health, bullying, sense of belonging, future jobs, identity…etc. Other groups involved with work like this might include moms, grandparents, educators, recovering addicts, etc.
Hosting community dinners with specific topics or themes for discussion. Meals might be prepared using local produce and could be set up outdoors, in interesting venues; they might even take place at a farmer’s market or on a local farm.
Inviting a local photographer or videographer to teach interested youth or adults a short course on photography or videography. Those taking the class might then proceed to document personal or local experiences or stories important for the community.
Hosting a Story Swap, or live storytelling hour with a twist: none of the stories are pre-screened, and anyone in attendance is welcome to share! Names of participants are drawn out of a hat, inviting folks of all walks to come share stories related to the monthly theme. Stories have to be less than 10 minutes long.
Documenting local artistic traditions and folkways (e.g., traditions of quilting, weaving, gardening, food preservation, music, dance, etc) and helping to perpetuate them through exhibitions, demonstrations, etc.
Producing a series of oral histories with community members, then hosting a ‘listening session’ and open dialogue around the community, its identity, ways that it is changing, etc.
The adjective “rural” is notoriously difficult to define, and its usage varies widely from one context to another. For purposes of this initiative, Illinois Humanities proposes to consider an organization “rural” if it meets at least two of the following four criteria:
1) it is located in a county with a population density of 150 or fewer residents per square mile;
2) it is located either in an unincorporated area or in a village, town, or city with a population of 7,500 or fewer residents;
3) it is located at least 20 miles from the nearest city with a population of 75,000 or more;
4) it has an explicit mission to serve rural communities or people who reside in rural locations.
We will revise these criteria as needed based on input from partner organizations and consultants.