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February 2020

Field & MacArthur Foundations Rewrite the Rules for How Chicago Leaders Reach Next Level

By | Field News, Uncategorized




CHICAGO — Building on a successful 2019, the Field Foundation’s innovative Leaders for a New Chicago award, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, enters its second year of redefining the future of civic leadership and racial equity in Chicago.

Each Leader will receive a no-strings-attached award for $25,000 in recognition of past accomplishments, and their affiliated organizations each will receive an additional $25,000 general operating grant. Nominations are open until March 2, 2020, and details on the nomination process, including nomination requirements, eligibility rules, deadline information and application, are at Recipients will be announced in June. The 2020 Selection Committee will include members from the previous year’s awardees.

For some inaugural Leaders for a New Chicago recipients, this award introduced Chicago to their work; for others it amplified their already growing status.

“This award has given me access to influential people and spaces,” said Heather Miller, executive director of the American Indian Center, and one of the 14 inaugural Leaders in 2019. “Our community now has access to political power.”

The initiative aims to create the cross-pollination of ideas that can produce innovative solutions for Chicago.

“Having this support to imagine a new kind of cultural project has been exciting,” said 2019 Leader Sarah Ross, co-founder and co-director of exhibitions of Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project, which brings art and educational programming to persons who are incarcerated. “Hundreds of studies and lots of data detail the causes of incarceration,” Ross added. “What we need is the imagination to create real equity.”

Leaders can use the awards as they see fit. For example, Viveka Ray-Mazumder stepped away from their role as manager of youth organizing and the KINETIC program for Asian American Advancing Justice to go to law school.

Ray-Mazumder said that while working at AAAJ to strengthen protections for undocumented and immigrant students in Chicago schools, they found “a dearth of legal expertise at the intersection of immigrant rights and education. We had wonderful lawyers volunteering to help us, but few felt confident navigating the murky, overlapping local, state and federal jurisdictions.”

Ray-Mazumder, who is also a co-founding collective member of Chicago Desi Youth Rising, said their legal career will help them cross those murky waters while engaging more directly with policymakers to shape future guidelines and legislation: “With Leaders for a New Chicago, I can now plan for my future in a way that wasn’t possible before because I was wrapped up in the urgency of doing the work.”

The Leaders for a New Chicago general operating grants allow the Leaders’ organizations to be recognized for their role in developing leadership. The unrestricted nature of the individual award allows Leaders to use the dollars as they desire.

In 2019, the Leaders for a New Chicago grants totaled $700,000 and went to 14 community-based visionaries and their organizations, many based on the South and West Sides. The grants help level the playing field in the private, public, and philanthropic sectors so that decision-making in Chicago can benefit from a wealth of diverse ideas.

“Chicago is filled with powerful visionaries,” said Angelique Power, President of the Field Foundation. “The Leaders for a New Chicago award allows us to find where power lives inside our communities, get these folks the dollars they need to dream bigger and then to get out of the way as they continue to create change.”

“We heard a call to elevate the voices of individuals who are leaders in their communities and professional fields and to provide them with unrestricted support to pursue their goals and personal growth,” said MacArthur President John Palfrey.

“In partnership with the Field Foundation, we seek to foster a generation of dynamic leaders, both emerging and established, because we believe that their influence will inform and improve decision-making across the city.

The 2019 Leaders are affiliated with organizations whose work aligns with the Field Foundation’s grantmaking areas of Art, Justice, and Media & Storytelling. The Leaders’ ability and willingness to draw on diverse influences shaped their approaches for redefining Chicago.

Eight of the 2019 Leaders will sit on the Selection Committee that will recommend the next recipients of the Leaders for a New Chicago award. Committee members are:

Aymar Jean Christian: Founder & Head of Development, OTV Open Television
Luis Gutierrez: Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Latinos Progresando
Darryl Holliday: Co-founder & News Lab Director, City Bureau
Viveka Ray-Mazumder: Co-founding Collective Member, Chicago Desi Youth Rising (CDYR)
Heather Miller: Executive Director, American Indian Center
Analia Rodriguez: Executive Director, Latino Union
Carlos Tortolero: Founder & President, National Museum of Mexican Art
J. Gibran Villalobos: Assistant Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

“I’ll be looking for leaders thinking about cross-collaboration,” Villalobos said, “crossing over to other sectors and other communities to figure out how the arts and leadership impact our civic discourse.”

About the Field Foundation
Founded in 1940 by Marshall Field III, the Field Foundation is a private, independent foundation that has been dedicated to the promise of Chicago for more than 80 years. The Field Foundation aims its grantmaking toward the goal of Community Empowerment through Justice, Art, Media & Storytelling and Leadership Investment. With racial equity at the center of its giving, it directs dollars to critical organizations working to address systemic issues in Chicago and aims to directly benefit some of our city’s most divested communities. Learn more at

About the MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarcerationglobal climate changenuclear risk and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy, as well as the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago. MacArthur supports Chicago nonprofits, leaders and communities by strengthening organizations, contributing to civic partnerships, investing in vital communities, advancing influential and diverse leaders and cultivating creative expression and art. Learn more at



Leader of participatory defense work, Westside Justice Center
“It made people listen to me. I already had a voice, but the award gave me the power to say no to some things and not have it held against me. There’s a power dynamic in every room, and people with the least power have to say yes.”

Cosby has been broadening her work. She recently met with Cook County commissioners about providing housing for women transitioning from incarceration.

Founder and CEO, Latinos Progresando
“I’ve never seen anything like this. The recognition for nonprofit leaders who are often overlooked by larger awards is humbling and inspiring.”

Luis Gutierrez said the award enabled him to invest in his own future: “One of the stressful things in this work is that you’re giving your life to building a better community and a better city but not getting paid where we can live the life that we want others to live.”

Investing in oneself is something that his organization, Latinos Progresando, continually urges its members to do.

“There is so much talent in our communities,” Gutierrez said. “We try to make sure people are not stopped from doing what they want to do because they don’t have the opportunity. It’s not a lack of knowledge or skill holding back the community, it’s a lack of opportunity to engage in things that lead them to better their lives.”

Executive director, the American Indian Center
Heather Miller knew three years ago that the American Indian Center would launch a campaign to rename Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The award brought recognition and put the project into overdrive.

“The campaign got way more traction, got much bigger and got into a different realm that we weren’t expecting so quickly. It forced us to do a lot more work, to get way more prepared and react quickly and forced us to do things we didn’t realize we needed to do.”

Initially, the plan was to push for a Chicago ordinance. Now with a higher profile, the American Indian Center is seeking buy-in from Cook County and the State of Illinois.

Founder and head of development, OTV Open TV
After receiving the award, Aymar Jean Christian was invited to be a featured speaker in a Chicago Ideas Week discussion about OTV Open TV and influence.

“I spoke about how, through OTV, we were able to expand our understanding of influence to include the power of the local, specifically Chicago, in the global world and the power of influence behind the scenes,” Christian said. “That influence can be invisible. Over the years, OTV has supported diverse writers and directors you may not have known. But then the indie project we supported them in gave them a much bigger platform, such as Netflix, Showtime and NBC.”

Afterward, Chicago Ideas created a video featuring Christian’s leadership and one of OTV’s late-summer events.

Community activist and visual artist recognized for her Folded Map Project
“It allowed me to take a leap and be a full-time artist. I could expand the reach of my project, which uses art to amplify issues that are important for our city to address, especially the issue of racial segregation.”

Johnson set several projects in motion. An exhibition March 19, 2020, will include photos and recorded memories of teenagers in places where they have experienced racial profiling and have been made to feel unwelcome. The exhibition will open in the spring at the UIC’s Puja Gallery, 1344 S. Halsted St.

Johnson is turning her Folded Map Project into a book, working on a Folded Map curriculum for schools, and will publish an activity kit.

“I’ve had 400 people write me to say they are interested in segregation in Chicago,” Johnson said. “The kit will get them to engage in a neighborhood they’ve been told not to go to or one they feel uncomfortable in. It will have activities for them to explore.”

Co-founder and co-founding collective member, Chicago Desi Youth Rising (CDYR)
While working to strengthen protections for undocumented and immigrant students in Chicago Public Schools, Viveka Ray-Mazumder found a gap.

“There’s a dearth of legal expertise at the intersection of immigrant rights and education,” said the former manager of youth organizing with Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “We had wonderful lawyers volunteering to help us, but few felt confident navigating the murky, overlapping local, state and federal jurisdictions.”

With the 2019 Leaders for a New Chicago award, Ray-Mazumder had the support they needed to leave the organization they had helped build over eight years and is now applying for law school to help fill the gap they recognized.

“I can now plan for my future in a way that wasn’t possible before because I was wrapped up in the urgency of doing the work,” said Ray-Mazumder. “I’m now on a path to directly engage the people involved in policy work. Who writes the rules matters.”

Executive director, Latino Union
“Time and space are a privilege. If people are worrying about what’s for dinner, their childcare needs and paying the rent, they won’t have the time and the space to think about and address issues of race, immigration and gender equity.”

“At Latino Union, we tell our community, ‘Come in. We’ll feed you and your children and provide childcare so your kids can do homework.’ We give them the time and space to focus on the issues that affect them and develop their leadership qualities. That’s when the magic happens.”

Rodriguez said the Leaders for a New Chicago award is doing for her what Latino Union does for her community: “I’m getting a taste of what our members go through and that’s invaluable.”

She said she is excited to take part in the optional leadership development programming that accompanies the Leaders for a New Chicago award and is eager to pay her experiences forward: “The tools I’m learning will stay with me, and I will be sharing them with others through Latino Union. Doors are opening for me, and I’m going to bring others with me.”

Co-founder and co-director of exhibitions, Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project
“I work with people who are great scholars and poets in prisons [The organization brings art and educational programming to persons who are incarcerated.] Because folks are locked away from basic resources, they need a lot: They have no computers; they get only two pens a month; and commissary is expensive. That means more work on our end. Then there’s raising money.”

The no-strings-attached Leaders for a New Chicago award gave Ross and the organization a respite from fundraising and a chance to dream even bigger. “Having this support gives us space to imagine a new kind of cultural project and that has been exciting,” Ross said.

“Hundreds of studies and lots of data detail the causes of incarceration,” Ross added. “What we need is the imagination to create real equity. We need creative models to help us imagine a world without prisons.”

Assistant Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
“In many ways, I echo what [Field Foundation President] Angelique Power had put forth in the statement about the awards,” said Gibran Villalobos, who for years has been drawing attention for his rethinking of the way museums and communities interact. “We were already leaders but never had the validation of being recognized.”

“The work [the 2019 Leaders] do is so tied to our personal lives, a reflection of our individual networks. Receiving the award validates our networks and how our everyday life plays a part in how we do our work.”