The Inside Scoop Behind the Bush Foundation's Community Innovation Grant to Arts on Chicago

Sometimes a grant is simply a means to an end, providing that critical first push to give an arts organization the needed momentum to follow through on an important project. Today, however, we'll be looking at a different phenomenon: how a seemingly innocuous 2012 grant from ArtPlace America to Arts on Chicago (A Minneapolis-based arts organization) triggered a kind of funding snowball effect, resulting in a $200,000 grant from the Bush Foundation that will help radically transform the Chicago Avenue streetscape.

ArtPlace America is one of the country's leading proponents of "creative placemaking," which argues that art should "shape the social, physical, and economic futures of communities." Two years ago, it cut a $150,000 check to Minneapolis' Arts on Chicago, an organization dedicated to developing communities and revitalizing neighborhoods through the arts and — you guessed it — creative placemaking.

Arts on Chicago used the money for 20 small-scale art placemaking projects along Chicago Avenue's 10-block corridor. What's more, the nature of the ArtPlace America grant lit a fire under Arts on Chicago. "Since they last for just one year, ArtPlace grants compel you to sprint to accomplish everything you’ve planned," said Mike Hoyt, Pillsbury House & Theater’s Creative Community Liaison.

Fast forward to 2014. One of two things could have happened. ArtPlace funding could have dried up and Arts on Chicago's projects languished. Even if this scenario played out, one could reasonably say the organization succeeded in its goal to kick-start the revitalization of the corridor.

Fortunately, a second scenario unfolded. Out of several hundred projects that applied for a Community Innovation grant, the Bush Foundation noticed the progress made by Arts on Chicago and selected it for a grant in order to see the project through to fruition. The two-year Community Innovation Grant will help Arts on Chicago fund existing placemaking projects on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis between 32nd and 42nd streets. The grant will also facilitate the development of a Creative Community Development Plan, to be finalized in 2016, as well as provide direct support for 8 to 12 artists engaged in creative placemaking projects around the neighborhood.

All of this makes us wonder if this Bush Foundation grant would have come to pass if ArtPlace America never gave Arts on Chicago the critical seed money to get the proverbial "creative placemaking" ball rolling?

Call us crazy, but we doubt it.