Foreground Rural Initiative to Support Cultural Programs in 19 Illinois Counties With $250,000 in Grants

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Illinois Humanities

Read Time 4 minutes
November 16, 2022

This year, Illinois Humanities introduced a first-of-its-kind program dedicated to supporting the arts and humanities in rural and small towns in Illinois. The Foreground Rural Initiative provides funding and other resources for individuals and organizations working in the arts, culture, and humanities, ensuring critical resources and visibility are brought to places and people often overlooked by traditional funding efforts.

Located across 19 counties in Illinois, the 27 inaugural Foreground grantee partners will receive grants of up to $10,000 and participate in skill sharing and resource sharing. Illinois Humanities will also partner with grantees on the co-creation of place-based “hubs” that will host community programming in 2023 in the regions where they are located.

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Photo courtesy of Foreground grantee partner, the Historic Marbold Farmstead Association.

All of this is bolstered by a multi-year commitment from the organization to not only seed growth, but ensure it flourishes.

A persistent gap in funding for rural organizations in Illinois continues to create a significant need. A 2017 analysis from nonprofit association Forefront found that Cook County benefited from 78% of grant dollars in the state and received 71% of total grant awards.

“The organizations we fund in rural and small towns serve places that were under duress even before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gabrielle Lyon, executive director of Illinois Humanities. “They are trusted, responsive community members that serve as critical social and economic anchors. In short, they are the places that keep the people in our state creative and connected.”

The Foreground Rural Initiative was created to address this reality by strengthening the cultural infrastructure of Illinois and bringing greater visibility to the cultural sector in rural communities and small towns.

“Illinois Humanities is doing consequential and creative work to forge a vision—and the reality–of ‘One Illinois,” said John T. Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “The Foreground Rural Initiative is an important endeavor to increase investment in our cultural riches in Illinois while also narrowing the political divide which has too often diverted us from coming together and truly flourishing. This initiative will make Illinois better.”

An advisory committee and group of 37 past grantees representing 25 counties informed the effort through a series of listening sessions hosted by Illinois Humanities to share their experiences organizing and funding arts and cultural work in their towns. Participants shared the unique challenges rural communities face in organizing cultural work. Experiences of being passed over funding, having trouble accessing resources, and reaching potential audiences were common. Common, too, was the sense of pride – and complexity – in a rural identity.

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Photo courtesy of Foreground grantee partner, the Historic Ellisville Restoration Organization.

“The relationships we have been fortunate to build with rural partners have grown and multiplied over the years. Their generosity of ideas has been great, and fundamentally shaped the design of Foreground,” said Matt Meacham, program manager of statewide engagement.

As the initiative enters its first year, these partnerships will remain paramount.

“A key priority for Foreground is that we are connecting grantees with the resources, tools, and networks to advance their own missions,” said Fairouz AbuGhazaleh, director of statewide programs. “We look forward to learning more about how to make this initiative as impactful as possible for them, and the communities they serve.”

Organizations receiving Foreground support: 

  • Cairo Historical Preservation Project; Alexander County
  • Carbondale Community Arts Inc dba Artspace 304; Jackson County
  • Carlinville Winning Communities; Macoupin County
  • Crossroads Cultural Connections; Henry County
  • Evans Public Library; Fayette County
  • Fulton County Arts; Fulton County
  • Gallery 510 Art & Framing, an Illinois Art Gallery; Macon County
  • Grundy City Historical Society; Grundy County
  • Here and Again Inc.; LaSalle County
  • Heterodyne Broadcasting; Jackson County
  • Historic Ellisville Restoration Organization; Fulton County
  • Historic Marbold Farmstead Assoc.; Menard County
  • The HUB – Arts & Cultural Ctr; Schuyler County
  • Illinois Rural Heritage Museum; Perry County
  • Legacy Training and Development; Pulaski County
  • Men of Power Women of Strength, Inc.; Alexander County
  • Moultrie County Historical & Genealogical Society; Moultrie County
  • The Realitea Project; Cumberland County
  • Savanna Historical Society; Carroll County
  • Schuyler County Architectural Foundation; Schuyler County
  • Southern Illinois Cultural & Bilingual Arts Education; Jackson County
  • Tri-State Public Radio; McDonough County

Individuals receiving Foreground support:

  • Brian “Fox” Ellis; Henry County
  • Stephanie Fraction & Sarah Lewison; Alexander County
  • Sandra Pfeifer; Pope County
  • Dennis Stroughmatt; Edwards County
  • Chris Vallillo (Gin Ridge); McDonough County

About Foreground

The Foreground Rural Initiative amplifies the voices of rural communities and small towns. Together with local partners, we offer grants and capacity-building, and co-create public programs and events. These partnerships create regional hubs connecting neighboring towns and the local nonprofits and cultural workers who keep their communities connected, creating new networks of collaboration and support.

Learn More