Looking Forward: A Retrospective & Introduction to the 2019-2020 Biennial Report

By November 10, 2020Field News

First Field staff ID of Mark Murray, Vice President of Programs and Administration, and Field’s longest-serving employee. 


When I was hired by the Field Foundation in summer 2003, I was excited but I remember thinking I didn’t know the first thing about private philanthropy although I was eager to learn. I thought all foundations were the same—same goals, values, and priorities.

My learning curve started on day one. I was pushed to ask difficult questions; my assumptions and values were challenged. I quickly found that site visits were more than having a conversation with prospective grantees. Seeing programs taught me about building relationships and understanding that I was a guest in the communities I visited. Most importantly, I learned to stay curious, ask a lot of questions and acknowledge that I didn’t (and still don’t) have solutions. My role was to listen and advocate for the work led by organizations and communities making an impact throughout Chicago.

When the Field Foundation started 80 years ago, I imagine Field Foundation Founder Marshall Field III atop the Field Building looking forward through the looking glass of time to the future. He was ahead of his time, and he believed that spreading opportunities and privileges to people who were disenfranchised was critically important to democracy and to achieving racial justice.

It has been more than 17 years since I was hired. Today, I am the longest Field Foundation employee in its history. I have reviewed tens of thousands of proposals, talked with thousands of organizations, visited hundreds of organizations and programs, and have recommended millions of dollars in grants. I have seen Field grow from a foundation dedicated to institutional grantmaking, helping historically underserved communities and Chicago’s cultural institutions, to a foundation that intentionally centers and prioritizes racial justice and community empowerment as a cornerstone of its existence.

Over 80 years, Field’s grant making has made a difference and has supported, hired, and funded a wide array of efforts and many important organizations and individuals. Late civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis was a Field staff member; Field made grants to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement, as well as grants to protect and empower indigenous people, among other groundbreaking work. Field has continued to champion racial and gender equity and equality for marginalized individuals and communities. It is central to the work we do and I am proud to be a part of it.

As we celebrate our 80th anniversary, I am delighted to share this biennial report, Freedom is More than a Word, (the title of Marshall Field III’s 1945 book), as a reflection of our recent work and of the organizations that continue to make Chicago strong.

If Marshall Field III could see us now, he might again be looking forward to what comes next—what the next 80 years hold for all of us, and the important work the Foundation will continue to do.

I am still as excited as I was 17 years ago about the opportunity to work at a place where I get to learn and act on important issues every day, and I am proud of our work making Chicago a more equitable place to live and work for all Chicagoans. We have done a lot in our 80 years and there is so much more to do.

Here’s to embracing the past but always looking forward—together.

Mark Murray
Vice President, Programs and Administration 


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