Historic Preservation & Capacity-Building Are at the Heart of this Chicago Funder's Strategy

The Alphawood Foundation, well-known around Chicago for its support of the arts and LGBT community, just awarded a different kind of gift that stands out. Alphawood gave $300,000 to the oldest African American art center in the country, the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago. This is a three-year grant that will help the center build capacity and plan for its future through fundraising and building improvements.

Although this grant is a bit different from other Alphawood support, there’s an aspect to it that’s undeniably characteristic of the foundation’s giving: historic preservation. Part of this $300,000 will fund the restoration and preservation of the historic building that the art center calls home, and Alphawood has been one of the most prominent historic preservation funders in the city for a long time now.

Jim McDonough, Alphawood Foundation’s executive director, made the following statement in a press release:

A frequent challenge for arts institutions—especially culturally specific organizations—is the lack of resources to build capacity they need to fulfill their missions" said. "The South Side Community Art Center is one of the most historic and important art centers in Chicago, and in the United States. With this grant, we hope to make it possible for the Center to develop much needed basic infrastructure to continue and grow its amazing programming. It is a measure of our confidence in Masequa Myers and her team that they can build on the rich history and solid foundation of the center to continue to tell the stories of the South Side and the City of Chicago for another 75 years. We are very proud to support the board and staff of SSCAC.

This particular art center is significant because it’s the only survivor of the 110 community art centers created by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration in 1940. And as the name suggests, it’s on the city’s South Side, a place where residents often have limited access to high-quality arts education and programming. Capacity building has also emerged as a huge funding opportunity for foundations in Chicago and around the country.

For interested grantseekers, these are Alphawood’s architecture and preservation program guidelines:

Alphawood Foundation funds organizations whose primary mission honors, promotes, and sustains the built environment.  Qualifying heritage preservation organizations must promote the preservation and protection of historic resources through advocacy, education, fund raising, and/or stewardship.  Qualifying organizations focusing on architecture must promote an equitable, just, and humane society through one or more techniques using concepts related to participatory design, socially engaged design, and sustainable design.

These types of grants are most frequently focused on the Greater Chicagoland area, which you’ll see upon reviewing the list of past architecture and preservation grantees from 2015:

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
  • Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance
  • Glessner House Museum
  • Indiana Landmarks
  • Landmarks Illinois
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Preservation Chicago

The Alphawood Foundation awards grants by invitation only, but you can learn more about how this funder operates in our full profile, Alphawood Foundation: Chicago Grants.