How is the Joyce Foundation Supporting Job Creation for People of Color Across the Chicago Arts World?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, African-Americans experienced an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent in May 2015, up from 9.6 percent in April. Meanwhile, the national average was 5.5 percent in May, with whites experiencing an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.

So what are arts-oriented foundations and philanthropists doing about it? Quite a lot, in fact.

From our vantage point, these foundations have rightfully concluded that supporting, say, a nonprofit dance troupe in a Rust Belt city can only succeed if there are employed individuals within the community to support the troupe. It isn't rocket science, of course, but oftentimes, we tend to view arts philanthropy as a zero-sum game. Foundations provide arts nonprofits with project or organizational planning-related support, while other foundations handle things like workforce development, job training, and ongoing education.

But sometimes the two worlds blur.

One approach can be seen in recent work by the Knight Foundation. The city of Gary, Indiana plans to build an arts and culinary center, dubbed "Arthouse: A Social Kitchen," with a $650,000 Knight grant. The project, which is spearheaded by the University of Chicago and Public Life Initiative, has a simple goal, best articulated by co-director Isis Ferguson. Gary has "the will to make change," Ferguson said. "It means that Gary has an unemployed population that is ready for work." 

Again, it isn't quantum physics. Create an art space that doubles as a restaurant and train local high school students to prepare them for a career in the culinary arts world.

Then there's a second approach, which represents a mild tweak to the first. It's best encapsulated by the Joyce Foundation, whose new initiative addresses the employment challenge from the "supply" side. Announced in May, the $2.56 million plan aims to create jobs for people of color within Chicago-based arts organizations.

Most of the recipients are theater organizations, and grant amounts range from $225,000 to $300,000. Grantees each receiving $300,000 include:

  • Black Ensemble Theater, which plans to use the money to bolster its development department.
  • Chicago Sinfonietta, which will further diversify its musicians and administrators.
  • The Goodman Theatre, which will cement its technical and managerial apprentice program for diverse candidates.
  • The National Museum of Mexican Art, which will expand its development staff.

The initiative also indirectly addresses another challenge facing individuals of color, which is a relative scarcity of non-white staff at museums across the country. For more analysis on how the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is tackling this challenge, click here.