The Arts & Business Council of Chicago (A&BC) is a nonprofit arts service organization focused on supporting Chicago’s art makers, cultural workers, and creative enterprises through consulting, programming, and professional development to ensure community vitality and an equitable creative economy. A&BC envisions a city where creativity is valued as a resource with limitless potential for social and economic impact.
The following values shape everything A&BC does:
- 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 fulfills its mission by building meaningful cross-sector partnerships and capacity-building through four programs:
- Learning Labs: Professional development sessions to start new conversations about nonprofit arts + culture management and continue discussing solutions for challenges across the sector. Through an aspirational yet tactical approach, Learning Labs critically examine current pressing issues in the field and collectively think through solutions.
- On BOARD®: Nonprofit governance learning program with a focus on the sector’s larger pressing issues and ethical governance considerations for current and prospective board members. The values informing our 2023 newly created curriculum are critical thinking, justice-driven agency, and cultural citizenship.
- Business Volunteers for the Arts®: Pro-bono consultants are matched with nonprofit arts organizations to support them on a capacity-related challenge they’ve identified as critical, including strategic planning, concept development, board or staff development, communications and marketing, and other management and programmatic areas.
- 77 Communities Initiative-Annexes: Community-centered project co-created with creative individuals and organizations from populations that have been historically marginalized and, most recently, disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Through transformational capacity-building and collaboration, we co-create tailored professional development opportunities and artistic + organizational capacity with local art makers, creative practitioners, and organizations from North Lawndale, Little Village, and Austin.
How A&BC Approaches Capacity-Building
A&BC supports art makers, creative practitioners, and nonprofit arts organizations by creating capacity on their own terms so that they can fulfill their mission and collectively, with us, contribute to an equitable creative economy. A&BC advances capacity-building by understanding and addressing underlying patterns, beliefs, and cultures that drive organizations and creative practices. In doing so, we create and adapt tools to fit the needs of an organization’s mission, goals, people, and culture.
The COVID-19 pandemic has largely affected A&BC’s traditional planning practices and organizational capacity. While hardly unique to A&BC, these circumstances are nonetheless a necessary background to understand our strategic planning design.
We are enacting a nimble, adaptive, and agile way of responding to ongoing financial challenges, an ever-changing creative economy, the needs of the audiences we serve, and our internal capacity, currently comprised of two full-time staff.
Therefore, we have created a 2-year strategic planning that encompasses two major goals:
- Model Organizational Sustainability: Grow our capacity to inspire accountability, persistence, integrity, and respect among our colleagues in the creative economy
- Empower Creatives: Empower cultural workers and enterprises through programming that helps grow capacity to fulfill their visions
Learn more about our 2023-2024 Strategic Plan.
The Arts & Business Council of Chicago is a small-sized nonprofit with an annual operating budget of under $300,000. We receive partial funding from foundations and generate income from what individuals and organizations pay for our programs. Our rates enable us to provide high-quality programs, pay employees and content experts, and offer a mix of higher-paying and lower-paying payment levels.
Your donation will help us fulfill our mission of creating an equitable creative economy in Chicago.
In 1985, Arts & Business Council of Chicago was established as Business Volunteers for the Arts®. Since its founding, Arts & Business Council of Chicago has trained and placed thousands of business volunteers on management consulting projects for nonprofit arts groups, providing over 100,000 hours of pro-bono consulting valued at over 14 million dollars.
In 1995, Business Volunteers for the Arts® changes its name to the Arts & Business Council of Chicago (A&BC) to more accurately reflect the broadened scope of its mission.
In 1996, A&BC pioneers the Arts Marketing Program, which includes an Advanced Training and Granting Program for arts marketing professionals and produces several seminal research studies. The program is adopted nationally in 1998 as the National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) of the Arts & Business Council Inc., and is replicated in 14 cities throughout the U.S.
In 1999, A&BC launches On BOARD®, an annual training and matching program for business professionals interested in serving on the boards of nonprofit arts groups. Since that time, more than 350 business professionals have been trained and matched on boards of all sizes and disciplines.
In 2001, A&BC develops an organizational assessment tool, smARTscope®, to analyze and measure the management capacity of arts organizations. smARTscope®, has evolved into an effective online planning tool, helping arts organizations avoid pitfalls and strategically use their limited resources.
In 2005, the A&BC national affiliate, the Arts & Business Council, Inc., merges with Americans for the Arts to more effectively increase private-sector support for the arts in America.
In 2006, for Chicago Community Trust’s SMART Growth grant program, A&BC oversees full-scale management assessments of 41 arts organizations utilizing smARTscope®, A&BC’s online assessment tool. Participating organizations developed strategic plans based on the findings and implements plans accordingly. Today 120 Trust grantees have used smARTscope®.
In 2010, A&BC celebrates its 25th year of serving Chicago’s arts and business sectors. During that quarter-century, A&BC trained and placed more than 1,250 business volunteers on management consulting projects for hundreds of nonprofit arts groups. And, during that time, more than 200 business professionals trained and matched with dozens of arts boards representing organizations of all sizes and artistic disciplines.
In 2015, A&BC celebrates its 30th year of serving the Chicago-area arts community with passion, innovation and determination.
In 2017, A&BC launches its annual Luncheon dedicated to the convergence of Arts, Business and Community – The “ABC’s” of building strong, active neighborhoods throughout Chicago.
In 2018, A&BC hires Justice Informed as a consultant to further A&BC’s opportunities and capacity for racial equity. Through this work, A&BC adopts strategies recommended by Justice Informed to support an environment that is an equitable space for all members of board and staff, and for the people in our city. Through a rigorous assessment process, an anti-racism training series, and an in-depth audit of A&BC policies and practices, board and staff begins working to develop and use tools to further racial equity in the organization and expand their network of partners through inclusive engagement practices.
In 2019, A&BC launches its 77 Communities Initiative (77CI). Through 77CI, the organization gives principal consideration to minorities along with communities and organizations that are perpetually marginalized in the arts & culture landscape due to historic, cultural, political, and socio-economic inequities; listen to and build relationship among volunteers, community stakeholders, and artist-entrepreneurs, in order to co-create solutions and opportunities to advance our city’s creative aspirations and potential.
2020, 2021 & 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on America’s arts sector. Even as arts organizations return to in-person programming and employment conditions improve for artists and creative workers, the arts are recovering slower than other industries.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey reports that “arts, entertainment, and recreation” businesses are among the most likely to take longer than 6 months to recover from the pandemic. It’s estimated that creative economies across the United States see negative economic impact of over $14.1 billion. Here at home in Illinois, 1,200+ arts administrators were laid off and 1,500+ more furloughed.
As our sector and our society move beyond Rescue and Relief, it’s important to remember that A&BC has offered Recovery & Rebuilding assistance during every economic disruption and national disaster since 1985. In fact, we do this in stable times as well. It’s part of our “continuum of care” philosophy of sequenced capacity building. It helps our Arts Partners weather those disruptions and to be prepared when they hit.
A&BC provides direct consulting, educational, and networking programs to leaders and staff of cultural and creative businesses so that they build their capacity and infrastructure to be sustainable organizations resulting ultimately in a strong, thriving arts community.
In 2020, A&BC: Launched 11 Business Volunteers for the Arts® (BVA) Projects equaling 1,300 hours valued at nearly $200,000 of pro bono consulting; Provided learning opportunities for over 150 arts administrators; and Facilitated board governance & leadership training to over 60 individuals.
In 2021, A&BC supported the development of: 10 Arts Partner organizations’ capacity through a Business Volunteers for the Arts® (BVA) Project where we matched 47 volunteers to serve on a BVA Team, plus fulfilling 8 BVA On Demand requests, all equaling 1,928 hours valued at $289,137 of pro bono consulting; and 350 arts staff & board members’ competency and skills to navigate these chaotic times by their attendance at one of our 6 On BOARD® sessions, 5 Learning Labs or 10 Round Tables for Senior Leaders.
In 2022, A&BC supported the development of: 16 Arts Partner organizations’ capacity through a Business Volunteers for the Arts® (BVA) where we matched 59 volunteers to serve on one of 12 BVA Project Teams, or fulfilling 5 BVA On-Demand requests, all equaling 2,294 hours valued at $344,100 of pro bono consulting; and 125+ arts staff & board members’ competency and skills by their attendance at one of our 6 On BOARD® sessions, 4 Learning Labs, or 4 Annex activities. Also in 2022, A&BC approved a 2-year Strategic Plan, with two primary objectives:
- MODEL ORGANIZATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY Grow our capacity to inspire accountability, persistence, integrity, and respect among our colleagues in the creative economy
- EMPOWER CREATIVES Empower cultural workers and enterprises through programming that helps grow capacity to fulfill their visions.