Grant Guidelines

Adapt to Change. Address Challenges. Focus on Equity.

THINK • EXPLORE • SHARE offers grants to enable arts organizations - or collaborative groups of arts organizations - to change operational and/or artistic practices to meet a changing arts environment.

These adaptation grants are intended to give organizations room to plan for (THINK) and test and enact (EXPLORE) shifts in organizational structure, operations, and/or financial practices. The grants are intended not for ongoing and regular operational costs but to help organizations redefine key partnerships, address longstanding challenges, navigate critical organizational transitions, and build a foundation of resilience to ensure they can effectively meet their missions.

Successful Arts Work Fund applications have addressed a wide variety of challenges and opportunities facing organizations and our sector. Some have met common challenges for groups of organizations by sharing resources or piloting new ideas together. Priority is given to efforts that can make a meaningful impact on the organization, are clear in their organizational capacity-building goals, and have the potential to create more sustainable operating structures or processes.

View projects supported through Think Explore Share grants.

Think & Explore Grant Process & Criteria

  1. At least 65% of grants will be allocated to arts organizations by, for, and about BIPOC communities.
  2. Proposals are reviewed by a panel of artists, arts leaders, and AWF funders.
  3. Applicants do not need to present a “new” idea. Funds can support an existing change effort or be used as part of a larger effort with funding from several sources. However, the review panel will consider how an AWF grant helps propel the project forward.
  4. Organizations decide whether to apply for a THINK or EXPLORE grant. An organization can apply for an EXPLORE grant without receiving a THINK grant. Organizations can only apply for one grant at a time.
  5. Collaborative proposals can include organizations that fall outside AWF’s budget guidelines but must show how they advance the work of eligible organizations. For collaborative projects, prepare a budget that provides for equitable resource distribution for all partners.
  6. Cross-sector proposals (working with a non-arts organization or individual) are eligible. For cross-sector proposals, describe the benefit to the arts organization and prepare a budget that ensures the arts organization benefits from most of the funding provided.

Think & Explore Grant Eligibility

  1. Organizations with an arts-based mission and IRS 501(c) (3) public charity designation or a fiscal agent that has this designation.
  2. Arts organizations led by, for, and about black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) with operating expenses of $2 million and below.
  3. Any arts and culture organization with operating expenses of $800,000 and below.
  4. Located in and serves Chicago and Cook County.

Organizations and Activities NOT eligible for funding

  • Organizations that are not based in and serving the Chicago metropolitan area.
  • Proposals for general operating support or development and production of creative work.
  • Proposals for ongoing programming or for projects that do not build organizational capacity.
  • Projects led by universities and schools (private, public, charter) and religious entities.
  • Projects seeking reimbursement for work completed, debt reduction, or endowment/capital campaigns.
  • Purchase of computers, software, equipment, and furnishings; website and database upgrades; and annual audits.

Selection Process

A panel made up of artists, arts administrators, and AWF funders reviews applications using the following criteria:

  1. Idea/Need: The clarity of the question or issue to be addressed and a case or why it is important to the organization or group of organizations right now.
  2. Adaptation: The request represents an adaption in organizational process or practice related to the Idea/Need.
  3. Plan: The clarity and appropriateness of the proposed plan as it relates to the organization's stated Idea/Need and Adaptation
  4. Capacity: The appropriateness of the proposed budget and the ability of the organization to undertake the project.
  5. Impact: The project's potential to have a meaningful impact on the organization and its potential to create more sustainable operating structures and processes.
  6. Broader Learning (EXPLORE GRANTS ONLY): The potential for what is learned from this project to be helpful to others in the field.
Upcoming Application Deadlines:

January 15, 2024, at 5:00 p.m. CT -- decision in March

May 15, 2024, at 5:00 p.m. CT -- decision in July

August 15, 2024, at 5:00 p.m. CT -- decision in October

If you are interested in applying for three-year general operating grants, check out our newest program Thrive



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