Creative Organizations

The Arts Work Fund is a funder collaborative created to help strengthen the management and operations of small arts and cultural organizations in Chicago and Cook County.

A Shift in Grantmaking

We have changed and expanded our grant opportunities in response to the extraordinary challenges Chicago’s cultural community is currently facing. Arts Work Fund has:

  • actualized our commitment to equity
  • streamlined our process
  • expanded eligibility
  • instituted a peer review panel process
  • changed to final report process to amplify sharing of lessons learned from these grants.


Think through a question, analyze challenges and opportunities, and develop plans or small tests of change

About Think Grants


Test and implement fully developed ideas with resources to support creativity and risk-taking

About Explore Grants


Forget grant reports. Strengthen the community through genuine sharing of lessons learned—failures and triumphs

More About Sharing

Adapt to Change. Address Challenges. Focus on Equity.

Think • Explore • Share grants will enable arts and culture organizations to develop and test possible solutions to challenges posed by COVID-19, or challenges that hampered nonprofits before the pandemic (e.g., lack of access to resources for artists of color and artists with disabilities, declining ticket sales, etc.). Challenges can relate to management, production, technology, fiscal planning, or artistic mission. Multiple organizations can apply to collaborate on a shared challenge.

Who’s Eligible to Apply?

  • Arts organizations led by, for, and about black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), with operating expenses of $2 million and below.
  • Any arts and culture organization with operating expenses of $800,000 and below.

Grant Size

  • Think Grants – up to $20,000 and Explore Grants – up to $30,000 for arts organizations led by, for, and about BIPOC, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and women.
  • Think Grants – up to $15,000 and Explore Grants – up to $25,000 for all other eligible organizations.

Our goal is to allocate 65% of all grants to organizations led by, for, and about BIPOC communities.

Upcoming Application Deadlines:

July 31, 2021 @ 5 pm CST, decision September 2021

November 30, 2021 @ 5 pm CST, decision January 2022

March 31, 2022 @ 5 pm CST, decision May 2022

Grant Guidelines

AWF Connect Listserv: A Supportive Community of Over 500 Organizations

AWF Connect is a discussion list specifically geared for the arts community. Members of the AWF Connect list include: seasoned arts administrators, funders of the arts, artists, and other amazingly talented folks in the arts community.

Join the Conversation

Recent Articles

On Site: Becoming an Anti-Racist Company

AWF Interviewing Tara Mallen: Founder & Artistic Director, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. Read More...

On Site: Longterm Artist Development Through Shorts

AWF Interviewing Eugene Park : Executive Director - Full Spectrum Features Read More...

In Conversation: Addressing Trauma and Healing in Arts Nonprofits

A conversation with three AWF grantees working to provide holistic supports and address trauma within their communities. Read More...

Emergency Relief Fund

From the beginning, it was clear that COVID-19 would have a devastating impact on the arts and cultural sectors and that Arts Work Fund needed to pivot to provide unrestricted, immediate support to arts organizations as they grappled with the fallout. In short order, a robust collaborative was formed between Arts Work Fund, 3Arts, Arts Alliance Illinois, the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, the local philanthropic community, and individual donors. Called the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund, Arts Alliance Illinois administered the fund, 3Arts leveraged its expertise to make grants available to artists, and the Arts Work Fund focused on grants to nonprofit arts organizations. Read More...

source: @CEKIMpRADmt

Reaching Forward

Throughout 2019, the Arts Work Fund AWF partnered with 21 African American, Latinx, Arab American, Asian American, and Native American arts leaders to co-design a new grant program and refine our grantmaking criteria and processes. COVID-19 interrupted the launch of our new grant program as we shifted to respond to emergency relief efforts. But we have instituted the grant making refinements that emerged from this process. Read More...

Grantee Voices