Suzanne Connor, Chicago Community Trust

TITLE: Senior Program Officer, Arts & Culture

FUNDING AREAS: Arts education, performing arts, museums, and fine art

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Connor believes that there's no greater missed opportunity than an undervalued asset, and she's making sure the Chicago Community Trust isn't missing any opportunities.

PROFILE: In Suzanne Connor's September 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan, she stated, "Failing to leverage the synergy of these institutions of higher learning as centers for creative young talent, research, innovation, and upward mobility overlooks a relevant response to the challenge of positioning Chicago globally....Therefore, I am recommending that this information and the collective role of Chicago's postsecondary institutions be incorporated in a significant way into the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan."

Any way you look at it, Connor is definitely more of a businesswoman than an artist. Before joining Chicago Community Trust (CCT) she served as director of programs and grants for the Arts & Business Council of Chicago. She got her experience by training more than 350 organizations and supporting their leaders in board governance, audience development, and income generation.

Connor also knows how to navigate the politics of the philanthropy industry. After graduating with a bachelor's in sociology from St. Bonaventure University and earning a master's degree from New York University, she served two terms as an elected official in northern Michigan in the 1990s. By drawing a connection between public art and public safety, Connor has been able to make the arts relevant to even the least culturally exposed city residents.

While Connor isn't likely to pick up a paintbrush anytime soon, she does value diversity in cultural programs. In an October 2012 Philanthropy News Digest article, she stated, "Creativity is often inspired by the cross-pollination of ideas, leveraging innovation and distributing resources equitably. As a robust and well-established community foundation, the trust is positioned to identify trends across the region and invest in promising ideas and partnerships."

In fact, CCT recently funded $1.3 million in grants to boost cultural diversity. The Black Ensemble Theater received $75,000 for theater production costs, and the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture received $40,000 to develop project events and outreach services. Connor has spread the money around to Chicago's other cultural groups as well by funding grants for the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Luna Negra Dance Theater, and the Cerqua Rivera Art Experience.

The CCT divides each year into three sections for funding: artistic and cultural diversity in March, capacity building in July, and arts learning in November. To get your organization considered for the "diversity" grants, you'll need to showcase the talents of culturally specific artists, perform or exhibit programs in underserved areas of the city, and ensure accessibility for the target community. To be considered for the "building capacity" grants, your organization will need to demonstrate how it is building a diverse cultural leadership. Again, diversity is the key to being considered for this category as well.

And if you're eyeing an "arts learning" grant, your organization had better be helping high-risk teens. As part of its Arts Infusion Initiative, CCT funds grants for organizations that help teenagers who have been involved in gang activity, school disciplinary action programs, and the criminal justice system. As part of a 2010 Navigating the Art of Change series, Connor delivered a presentation to promote this program titled "Arts Infusion Initiative: A Catalytic Approach to Restoring the Peace for Chicago's Youth."

Chicago Community Trust (CCT) has also consistently funded grants for big-name institutions such as Loyola University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. These higher education art grants have funded a disability art series, a summer jazz academy, and a program to support the professional development of art teachers.

Connor is a hands-on director and encourages all funding communications to be directed to her.