We recently dug a little deeper into the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation’s support for film in Chicago and concluded that historical preservation trumps new videography projects on the priority list. But could that be changing now because of a major expansion in Donnelley’s arts grantmaking strategy?
The foundation recently hosted a launch party at a bowling alley in the city to kick off its new commitment to small professional arts organizations. Not a fancy banquet hall or a swanky rooftop bar, but a bowling alley. Admittedly, 10pin in Chicago’s iconic Marina City building complex is more upscale than your average bowling alley. But the event’s down-to-earth, unpretentious setup sends a message to artists that this is an approachable foundation that isn’t intimidating or impersonal to work with.
The Donnelley Foundation currently supports about 170 small arts organizations in Chicago engaged in music, dance, theater, visual arts, and literature. Donnelley defines “small” organizations as ones with annual budgets under $1 million. It has been making general operations grants to these types of organizations for over 50 years. For example, the foundation recently awarded a $5,000 general operating support grant to Art Forms & Theatre Concepts to help pay for community outreach and youth theater initiatives.
Going forward, Donnelley plans to offer even more general operating support to its grantees under the newly launched Gen Ops Plus plan. There are various organizational development opportunities available under this plan, including one-on-one coaching, trainings, peer sharing, and a new grant fund for capacity building efforts.
"Organizational capacity building may sound boring to some," said the foundation's Director of Chicago Program, Arthur Pearson. "But it's what a lot of our grantees tell us they need. And for those who really run with it, building stronger arts organizations is its own creative act. Just ask Lookingglass Theatre or TimeLine Theatre."
To perpetuate the foundation’s non-pretentious image, the launch party was just as much about food and fun as getting down to business.
"Bowling. Food. Drink. A brief announcement about our expanded arts grantmaking strategy. What could be more fun?” pitched Ellen Placey Wadey, the Foundation's new Program Officer.
Donnelley’s general operations grants come with a great deal of trust, as they are typically unrestricted and awarded for multi-year support. To help arts organizations grow stronger in other ways, the foundation also provides technical assistance grants, a cash reserve challenge, and annual feedback and guidance.