Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation’s grantmaking program supports musical and theater arts, dance, museums, public television, and radio media in the Chicago metropolitan area. The average Cheney grant is between $1,000 and $40,000, and both well-established and small arts organizations are considered for grants.

FUNDING AREAS: Performing arts in dance, music and theater; museums; literature; visual arts, public television, radio media

IP TAKE: The Cheney Foundation accepts unsolicited grant proposals from organizations in the Chicago metropolitan area four times per year. This is a great foundation for arts nonprofits, large and small, to get support for a specific program. But keep in mind that general operating support and unrestricted support are rare.

PROFILE: Elizabeth F. Cheney, a life-long Chicago area resident and supporter of the arts, established a foundation in her name shortly before her death in 1985. Cheney was the great-granddaughter of Chicago pioneer Philo Carpenter and the granddaughter of Henry M. Hooker, founder of one of Chicago's earliest drug stores the Hooker Glass and Paint Manufacturing Company. She was an avid collector of art, books, and antiques, and she donated many pieces of her collection to museums. It was Miss Cheney’s wish to support artistic and cultural endeavors in the Chicago metropolitan area through her foundation.

The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation’s grantmaking program supports musical and theater arts, dance, museums, public television, and radio media. To encourage a rich civic culture, the foundation is interested in supporting artistic programs for both performance and presentation. The most common grantees include musical performance organizations, theater and dance companies, historical societies, and museums. In general, the Board of Directors looks for organizations that are “rigorously engaged with their craft and which are supported by a solid management structure.”

Today, the Cheney Foundation is led by President, Lawrence L. Belles, and Executive Director, Elisabeth Geraghty. Belles hails from Rochester, New York, and is a former museum curator and owner of Upstate Gallery Antiques in Rochester. Geraghty’s education and career has long been centered on the arts, especially through her support for the arts in Chicago. She attended Northwestern's School of Music where she earned a Master's in musicology (piano and harpsichord) before pursuing a career as an attorney. In addition to her role at the Cheney Foundation, Elisabeth has consulted for the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Prince Charitable Trust.

At the end of a recent year, the Cheney Foundation reported over $9.8 million in assets and just over $1.3 million in annual giving. Assets and giving have remained fairly steady over recent years. Almost all grant recipients are based in Chicago, with just a few going to suburbs like Evanston, Highland Park, and Libertyville. The only exceptions to this rule were sporadic grants made to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a theater in Palm Desert, California, a couple arts organizations in the Rochester, New York area. These are some of the largest Cheney grants in from the past include:

  • $100,000 to the Art Institute of Chicago for an impressionism and fashion catalogue
  • $46,700 to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a civic broadcast and multi-open rehearsal
  • $45,000 to the Northwestern University School of Music for the Winter Chamber Music Fest

Although these are well-established and prominent arts organizations in the Chicago area, the Cheney Foundation supports lots of smaller, lesser-known theater, dance, and music groups locally too.

And yes, the Cheney Foundation does accept unsolicited grant requests from organizations based in and serving the Chicago metropolitan area. Mail, email, and phone inquiries are all fair game. Grants are not typically given to help meet operating budgets, and unrestricted grants are rare. Rather, grants are project-oriented with the goal of funding worthwhile projects which otherwise might not receive necessary funding.

The Board meets four times each year and proposal deadlines are as follows:

  • Museums and literary arts – February 1st
  • Music – April 1st
  • Dramatic arts – August 1st
  • Dance – October 1st

Inquiries, proposals, and general questions should be directed to Elisabeth Geraghty at egeraghty@cheneyfoundation.org or by phone at 312-782-1242.

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