Publish Date

The Chicago Park District receives $150,000 award and is one of 89 National Endowment for the Arts Our Town projects selected nationwide

The Chicago Park District’s Culture, Arts and Nature department announced that it is set to receive a grant of $150,000 to fund The Re:Center Project: Cultivating Cultural Stewardship in Chicago's parks initiative. Re:Center integrates hands on learning to empower community members, artists and park staff to come together as active planners and cultural programmers to enhance neighborhood public space. The NEA grant will bolster already successful efforts to embed stronger values, advocacy, and skills around arts & cultural programming to benefit Chicago’s diverse South, West, and North side communities.

“I am proud that the NEA has recognized the importance of programs like Re:Center, which help to strengthen the relevance and quality of cultural programs at neighborhood parks across the city,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “By engaging with local community members, we are able to integrate neighborhood assets and create space for friends and family to enjoy together.”

The NEA grant will fund the project through July 2019 and support implementation in 9 additional Cultural Centers across Chicago’s North, West, and South sides. A total of 15 Cultural Center sites will call on community members, artists, and park staff to co-generate strategies and engage Chicagoans as stewards of public space using Re:Center’s guided and adaptive framework.

“The Chicago Park District is proud to be a cultural stakeholder and asset in the community and is honored to receive a recognition that is supportive of our efforts to expand our cultural services in the communities that we serve,” said Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Michael P. Kelly.

Re:Centeris marked by four phases: The Listening Party, where community concerns about cultural programming at Cultural Centers are identified; The MeetUPs, where members discuss, vet and select a community cultural project; The Feature, with stakeholders ultimately deciding on and realizing a project from planning to execution; and Circulations, whereby stakeholders reflect on the process, share their best practices, and consider next steps to sustain the work.

The project, spearheaded by Dr. Meida McNeal, Arts & Culture Manager at the Chicago Park District, the Re:Center project, was launched in 2015 to engage communities and artists in developing cultural programming and priorities for parks across Chicago.

“The Re:Center initiative is about building event and program planning skills, building long term relationships that help support and continue the work, and building an understanding of the various roles needed to create programming and to execute effective advocacy work that can lead to system change and help reshape communities and neighborhoods,” said Dr. McNeal.

The Chicago Park District received the highest award amount among Chicago’s award recipients to support its cultural stewardship project. The NEA received 274 eligible applications for Our Town this year and will issue grants ranging from $25,000 to $200,000. A total of $2.17 million was awarded in Illinois to 52 grantees, of which 38 are Chicago-based organizations.

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced 89 awards totaling $6.89 million supporting projects across the nation through the NEA’s Our Town program.

“The arts reflect the vision, energy, and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support organizations such as the Chicago Park District , to cultivate vitality in their communities through the arts.”

The project is a partnership of the Chicago Park District, Lookingglass Theatre, and the Chicago Parks Foundation. Re:Center participants will develop high quality, locally relevant arts and culture programming for residents that utilize Chicago's 15 Cultural Centers. The Park District’s Cultural Centers will collaborate with artists and surrounding community members to re-imagine cultural programming that reflects the interests of neighborhoods across the city's North, West, and South sides. Activities include listening sessions, workshops, and program planning, followed by artist residencies that will respond to the findings.

This is part of Mayor Emanuel’s Building on Burnham plan, a comprehensive vision to invest in Chicago's parks and open spaces. This plan follows the Mayor’s successful expansion of Chicago’s park system in his first mayoral term, which has already added 750 acres of new parkland, 256 new playgrounds and more than $800 million in capital investment from neighborhoods and private sources.

For a complete list of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, please visit the NEA web site at The NEA recently relaunched the creative placemaking web page which has lots of resources.

To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEASpring17.