Luminarts Cultural Arts Foundation Celebrates 10 Years of Funding Artists and Changing Lives

In 2014, RS Deeren, 26, was an aspiring writer attending Columbia College, living in Ravenswood, and so poor he was stealing cans of tuna from his roommate to cook for dinner when he was notified that he had won a scholarship from the Luminarts. Cultural Foundation.

“I was kind of a cliché,” Deeren told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It was the first time anyone other than a school said, ‘You are a writer, we believe in you,’ and the money was very attractive at the time.”

Deeren’s story is perhaps one of the most dramatic of artists who have won Luminarts grants in the past decade, but several spoke to the Sun-Times about how the foundation helped them financially and provided opportunities that led to the fulfillment of their careers.

On October 1, the Luminarts Cultural Foundation will celebrate 10 years of funding and supporting Chicago-based artists with a dinner at the Arts Club of Chicago. Along the way, more than $2 million has been paid out to more than 200 fellows, along with countless networking opportunities that many have taken advantage of, according to executive director Jason Kalajainen.

Chicago-based cellist Alexander Hersh said he was a young musician with limited experience and a lot of sass when Luminarts first supported him.

“I had an idea for a chamber music festival called Nexus Chamber Music when I was 24, and they went there,” said Hersh, who won a scholarship in 2016 and later got a project grant. for its music festival a year later.

“They believed in me and believed in so many other artists and it’s so empowering and amazing. Thanks to this initial grant, we are now in our fifth year [and returned to] Ravina and [the classical music incubator] Guarneri Hall with the festival this year,” Hersh said.

While the foundation has been around since 1949, originally founded as the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation (CAF), the Luminarts Cultural Foundation was established by members of the Union League Club of Chicago as a separate non-profit organization. non-profit. For years the foundation has supported artists with one-time monetary awards, but it wasn’t until 10 years ago that the organization decided to focus its financial and other resources to help boost the career of a artist, said Kalajainen.

Luminarts generally receives between 400 and 500 applicants per year for 20 scholarships, and the three criteria are that the applicant must be between 18 and 30 years old at the time of application; they must live within 150 miles of downtown Chicago when they apply, and they must be enrolled in or have graduated from a degree program, Kalajainen said.

Fellows are judged by professionals in fields such as visual arts, jazz and classical music, and creative writing. In addition, thanks to a collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet, one ballet scholarship holder is awarded per year. Likewise, a collaboration with the School of the Institute of Art allows a fashion designer, and a collaboration with the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art allows an architect to be selected per year, a said Kalajainen. Fellows receive a check for an amount ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 and can also apply for additional project grants.

Multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker, Aimy Tien was a 2014 Luminarts grantee in literary creation.

Tyler Pasciak LaRivière/Sun-Times

Over the past decade, Luminarts has awarded more than 200 fellows, and a map of the geographic reach of the group’s awards resembles an aerial map of cities served, with routes from Chicago to all of Europe, Asia , the Middle East and Australia. .

Luminarts is funded by a government endowment, private donations, fundraisers and a historic relationship with the Union League Club of Chicago – whose Kalajainen members have likened to “arts venture capitalists”.

“They are certainly donors, but they also invest money in these incredibly talented young people because they want their wonderful art to be in the museums they go to and their books to be in the libraries they go to” , Kalajainen said.

But more than money, Luminarts provides networking and professional development opportunities, which has helped fellow countryman Aimy Tien, a 30-year-old writer and filmmaker.

“It’s been eight years since I got my scholarship and they still contact me. They see other ways to support us with project grants and also host cocktail parties where we can meet other collaborators,” said Tien, who received a creative writing grant in 2014. She added that in because of her scholarship, she became writer-in-residence at the Union League Club library for a year and received a project grant for a film she made called “To the Body”.

For Deeren, who grew up in rural Michigan before attending Columbia College, the trust Luminarts placed in him gave him the confidence to take on other projects.

“Luminarts was that organization that said, ‘We see you and we want to promote you.’ It gave me a ton of confidence, especially as a small-town guy moving to Chicago,” Deeren said.

Deeren, who now lives in Tennessee and is a writing professor at Austin Peay State University, said wryly that her first collection of short stories would soon be published by Wayne State University Press.

“In this collection is the story I submitted to the Luminarts competition that won me the scholarship, so it’s really come full circle,” Deeren said. Additionally, like Tien, through Luminarts, he was awarded the Union League Club Library Writer-in-Residence two years after receiving his fellowship.

“It gave me the space and the time to start my first novel, which I’m in the process of editing,” Deeren said.

While Luminarts’ plans continue to favor Chicago artists for years to come, Tien said they are helping more than artists selected as scholarship recipients.

“We often forget that there are entire teams behind the art, even solo. So even though a scholarship supported me, it ends up affecting a lot of additional artists. Luminarts has been a nexus of broader artistic impact that cannot be immediately seen by our individual grants.

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