SMART Growth

Making Diverse Small Cultural Organizations Strong and Sustainable

The Chicago Community Trust believes that the strength of our region’s cultural vitality is rooted in the diverse landscape of community-based arts and cultural organizations that create affordable and accessible arts opportunities for all residents.

SMART Growth is a four-year capacity-building program that helps Cook County’s small arts and cultural organizations engage their board and staff in strengthening management practices that effectively support their mission, enabling them to contribute to the community, pay a living wage to artists and staff and remain resilient in the face of economic and demographic shifts. This signature Trust program includes a customized initial assessment by the Arts & Business Council of Chicago and training in the SMART Growth methodology, followed by 3 years of general operating grants which can range from $15,000 to $50,000 per year.

A total of 70 cultural organizations are alumni of the Smart Growth program, and a further 31 organizations began their participation in 2015.

In 2010, the Trust commissioned an evaluation of the SMART Growth methodology, assessing its impact on organizations as well as providing data to improve the program’s design for future cohorts. This was followed up with a 2014 longitudinal study that tracks the first cohort of organizations, five years after their participation.


Who can apply:

Potential grant seekers should be deeply rooted in and reflective of a community, target population or art form that is underrepresented in the cultural spectrum of the Chicago region.

Applicant organizations must meet the following criteria:

  • Be an Illinois nonprofit with federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt designation
  • Be incorporated as an arts and culture organization (not a social service agency, college/university or other entity with an affiliated arts/cultural program)
  • Be located in and primarily serve Cook County
  • Have an annual operating budget that is less than $1 million in its most recently audited fiscal year
  • Have at least one paid management staff person
  • Have a functioning, volunteer Board of Directors
  • Have not been a prior SMART Growth grant recipient

In February 2015, the Trust announced 31 grant recipients who will participate in SMART Growth’s current cycle. Applications for the next cohort will be in 2017.