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 identify and test what they can do in the here and now to adapt to challenges posed by COVID-19, or challenges that hampered them before the pandemic (e.g., lack of equity and accessibility for artists of color and artists with disabilities, declining ticket sales). Challenges identified for support can be managerial, production, technological, fiscal planning, and artistic. (If you are seeking a grant for an artistic project, the project should be in service of the organization as a whole, versus in support of a specific piece of work, and have a social engagement goal or address a community issue or need). The goal is to cultivate unconventional thinking to address the immediate challenges of COVID-19 and devise more effective ways for arts organizations to meet their desired outcomes.

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.

Examples of questions an applicant might ask:

  • What would we need to do to shift our organization to one that better supports our artistic creation?
  • How might we incorporate anti-racist practices, pay our artists fairly, and produce our best work?
  • How might we build an arts organization that is resource stable, without relying on recruiting a board of wealthy, connected individuals?
  • How do we stay connected with audiences and communities in the context of current COVID-19 restrictions?
  • What strategies ensure continued revenue without programming?
  • How might we shift our work to better support our community?
  • What will change if we use our talents and artistry to become a more just organization and to create a more just world?
  • What would change if we broke the mold of a multi-show theater or exhibition season, and as a result, increased impact and improved our business model?
  • What would change if we had a financial plan that accounted for opening, closing, reopening, and trying to ascertain how and when our audience or students will be willing to return?
  • How might we become a more vibrant and sustainable organization with a strategic partnership or merger?

Overall Grant Process and Criteria

  1. At least 65% of grants will be allocated to arts organizations by, for, and about BIPOC communities.
  2. A review panel will make decisions of artists, arts leaders, and AWF funders. People associated with organizations that are eligible for this grant opportunity are ineligible to serve on the review panel.
  3. Applicants will determine the use of grant funds (e.g., salary, consultants). In the past, AWF asked arts organizations to use our funds to hire consultants. This is no longer the case. The review panel will look for budgets that reflect the work being proposed.
  4. Applicants do not need to present a “new” idea. Funds can support an existing effort or be used as part of a larger effort that has funding from several sources. However, the review panel will consider how an AWF grant helps propel the project forward.
  5. Organizations decide whether to apply for a THINK or EXPLORE grant. An organization can apply for an EXPLORE grant without having received a THINK grant.
  6. Collaborative applications are highly encouraged and will be considered a priority. 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.
  7. 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.

Overall Grant Eligibility

  1. The applicant organization must have an arts-based mission.
  2. A current IRS 501(c) (3) public charity designation determination letter.
  3. Arts organizations led by, for, and about black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), with operating expenses of $2 million and below.
  4. Any arts and culture organization with operating expenses of $800,000 and below.
  5. Located in and serving Chicago and Cook County.
  6. If a former Arts Work Fund grant recipient, you must have submitted a final report for previous grant activities.
Ineligible Costs: Debt retirement; Endowments, Capital campaigns; Lobbying activities; Purchase of computers, software, equipment, furnishings; Website and database upgrades; Annual audits; Conference/workshop fees; Printing/general material costs; Reimbursement for work completed before a grant award.

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