Two South Side art organizations, the Chicago Film Archives and the Hyde Park Art Center, received MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions late last month. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, perhaps best known for its annual “Genius” grants to individual artists and scholars, is the tenth-largest private grant foundation in the country. This year, for the first time, all fourteen grantees were organizations based in Chicago. They included art galleries, theaters and theater companies, and musical groups, as well as creative writing organization Young Chicago Authors.

The Chicago Film Archives (CFA), a regional film archive based in Pilsen, identifies, collects, preserves and provides access to private and institutional footage from across the Midwest. Founded in 2003 by current director Nancy Watrous, CFA began by cataloguing and preserving over five thousand 16mm films initially donated by the Chicago Public Library. CFA then began collecting footage from amateur and home movies filmed in Chicago.

CFA’s philosophy focuses on preserving film that reflects the cultural and historical identity of Chicago and the Midwest, though the organization’s collections are notably broad in their subjects. Currently, the archive has collected over twenty-five thousand films and provides access to them online, onsite, and at screenings, in addition to providing footage for other artists’ individual projects. CFA says it will place the $200,000 it has been awarded in a reserve fund while continuing to work on developing its digital assets.

“The critical nature of moving image preservation often goes unnoticed, giving way to other cultural pursuits, leaving history behind as something merely made of nostalgia,” wrote Collections Manager and Digital Archivist Amy Belotti in a post on the CFA website. “The ability to recognize that moving image records offer a glimpse into our future as well as our past is something rare. Moving images can offer a more visceral, dense and rich reflection of our collective past than either text or photographic images can provide.”

The Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) will receive an award of $625,000. HPAC is a community art center that focuses on playing a positive role in the Hyde Park and South Side communities through studio-art classes, artist talks, and free public events. HPAC hosts exhibitions by emerging contemporary artists and provides artist residencies. It also helps historically underserved South Side neighborhoods through teen outreach programs and classes. In the words of the MacArthur Foundation’s grant award, HPAC serves as a “a model for how an institution can develop its city’s artists while remaining accessible and relevant to the community.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation website, HPAC will use the money “to supplement its cash reserve and broaden access to its resources through technology tools.” At press time, HPAC could not be reached for further comment.

The award, which targets nonprofits working to build a “more just, verdant, and peaceful world,” chose exclusively Chicago organizations as a tribute to the foundation’s city of origin, and also to “strengthen the city’s vibrant cultural life.”

“These superbly imaginative arts organizations, competitively selected, bring diverse new audiences to opera, inject storytelling into dance, create new types of music, add humor to theater classics, and even partner with jazz musicians in Cuba,” wrote Julia Stasch, the Foundation’s president, in a press release. “Chicago’s arts community is vibrant and economically vital to the region. Support for these leading organizations reflects our enduring commitment to Chicago and to its cultural life that enriches us all.”

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