The 77 Communities Initiative

Photo: Brad Knight


In 2018, A&BC embarked on a Racial Equity Assessment with Justice Informed, which included customized training and in-person workshops for staff and board, and the development of our Racial Equity statement (August 2019) which commits us to championing policies and practices of racial equity that empower a just and creative Chicago. Our commitment is further exemplified in our value statements.

  • Relationships Matter – We value kindness, sincerity, and honesty as they inspire empowerment and transformation.
  • Diversity Builds Capacity – We value the inclusion of multiple identities and perspectives, enabling us to make better decisions.
  • Mutuality is Essential – We value partnerships with those who also champion policies and practices of social equity and justice.

A&BC utilizes learnings from “Point The Way” (2017) by Learning for Action of a coalition of Chicago arts and culture funders and capacity builders, shows nonprofit organizations in resource-depleted areas (often communities of color) experience a significant disadvantage in management capacity and infrastructure, facing greater challenges to accessing resources; and the Chicago Park District’s 2021 report “Reflections and Motions for an Equitable Artistic Ecosystem,” which highlights the sustainability of organizations and collectives, as being directly tied to the capacity of individual leaders.

Additionally, the Field Foundation of Illinois’s “Heat Maps” (2016) show residents in the study area are less than 10% Caucasian, which leads us to understand how racial inequity may be a factor in the decline in Chicago’s artistic vibrancy (Since 2015, Chicago’s ranking has dropped from 10th to 15th in 2020- the last year cities were “ranked”).

Inspired by the “Heat Maps”, A&BC analyzed its own Engagement Map, to see how many creatives we served in the Field Foundation’s study area. We found barely any cross over, and avowed to reach artmakers in all 77 communities.

Starting in 2019, A&BC works to expand and deepen its delivery of programs and services through the 77 Communities Initiative (77CI)  – a realignment of resources to prioritize supporting creative enterprises in historically divested communities.

Through 77CI, A&BC:

  1. Gives principal consideration to minorities along with communities and enterprises that are perpetually marginalized in the arts and culture landscape due to historical and cultural, political and socio-economic inequities;
  2. Listens to and builds relationship among volunteers, community stakeholders, and creative-entrepreneurs; and
  3. Co-creates solutions and opportunities to advance our city’s creative aspirations and potential, as measured by increased creative production, philanthropic support, earned revenue, and readiness for and paths to capital services and procurement.
Our Engagement Strategy
  • Mapped all 77 Communities, acknowledging (as of 1/1/19) we had engaged with art makers in only 36 (47%) of our 77 Communities;
  • Developed a strategy to engage with art makers in the other 41 Communities, by 12/31/20 and despite the disruptions from the pandemic, finally achieved our goal – now having reached all 77 communities;
    • A&BC has increased engagement among leaders and staff of arts & culture businesses representing or serving 61 Chicago zip codes (77 communities) to 90%. (Feb. 2023)
  • Invited and settled a cohort of 10 ALAANA (African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab and Native American) organizations to work together in 2019 & 2020 to co-create a capacity building plan (7 of these organizations come from the aforementioned 41 Communities);
  • Modified our volunteer training and orientation to integrate anti-racist education that provides critical perspectives on racial inequities in arts and culture landscape and art and culture funding;
  • Expanded and diversified our volunteer corps, which is central to our delivery of services, so that communities will be the direct beneficiaries of those who work and/or live in those communities;
    • Our current (2023) volunteers come from 33 of 61 Chicago zip codes. Of the 85% of the 130+ volunteers whose zip codes are known and/or within Chicago, 15% live on the Southside; 15% Loop; 7% Westside; 31% Northside. (Feb. 2023)
  • When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our strategy, we pivoted to research, and created the “77 Communities Briefs”, a portfolio documenting every community and which illuminates, expands, and challenges concepts of “traditional” demographics and what is considered a cultural asset, especially those that are arts-adjacent. Additionally, the “Briefs” recognize opportunities for partnerships that promote community and economic development though the creative sector.
    • Since 2021, the “Briefs” have provided to A&BC’s Board of Directors & Business Volunteers for the Arts as an extension of the programmatic changes we’ve made to undo racist theories and practices in our work; and are used to engage Corporate Partners and to identify Annex sites.
  • Expanded the sector and racial representation on Arts & Business Councils Board of Directors, where 50% now represent the arts & culture sector, and 60% identify as a Person of Color. (December 2022)
  • In the past 3 years, A&BC has increased engagement among leaders and staff of arts & culture businesses representing or serving 61 Chicago zip codes (77 communities) from 61% to 90%. (December 2022)

(updated February 2023)

Things We’re Thinking About

For more information on 77CI, email