3Arts is the contemporary reinvention of The Three Arts Club of Chicago, an organization founded in 1912 by social activist Jane Addams and more than 30 other female civic leaders who wanted to change the composition of the male-dominated art world by encouraging women to pursue careers in the arts—eight years before women had the right to vote.
One of eight clubs spanning Europe and the United States—from Paris and London to New York City and Philadelphia—the Chicago branch was the last survivor of the network by the early 1950s. Over time, our local club evolved into an alternative dormitory serving downtown art schools and providing scholarships for nearly 25 years. As those schools began erecting their own state-of-the-art dormitories, the club faced a turning point, with fewer residents, a deteriorating landmark building, and no cash reserves.
In 2006, after a plan to restore and renovate the building proved beyond our resources, the Board of Directors made the tough decision to sell the property in order to preserve and contemporize the organization. By February 2007, the property was sold and the net proceeds were invested in an operating fund to seed and grow our organization’s new purpose. Today’s 3Arts both expands on the original mission and continues to connect equity and the arts by investing directly in Chicago’s women-identified artists, artists of color, and Deaf and disabled artists.
In 2009 we increased our annual awards from six to twelve so more artists could weather the recession. In 2010 we added the Teaching Arts category to our awards program. In 2012 we launched an online crowdfunding platform, 3AP (3Arts Projects), to support the creation of new art and added the Dance category to our awards program. In 2013 we expanded our residency fellowships to include a national network of artist communities. In 2014 we increased the amount of our awards from $15,000 to $25,000. In 2015 we launched a groundbreaking residency fellowship for artists with disabilities, in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as expanded our partnerships with artist communities to an international network of residency sites from France to Florida. In 2017 we celebrated our 10th anniversary and launched Make a Wave, an unprecedented artist-to-artist giving program. In 2019 we added a new professional development program on accessibility and inaugurated our first Artist Council. In 2020 we increased the amount of our awards to $30,000, inaugurated $50,000 Next Level/Spare Room Awards to provide second grants to past awardees, and managed the distribution of emergency grants to 2,493 artists across the state through the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund. In 2020 we increased the amount of our awards to $30,000, inaugurated $50,000 Next Level/Spare Room Awards to provide second grants to past awardees, and managed the distribution of emergency grants to 2,493 artists across the state through the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund. In 2021 we launched the Disability Culture Leadership Initiative (DCLI) to advocate for Deaf and disabled artists in our field, initiated our own 3ER (3Arts Emergency Response) program to help artists in our network, and distributed 134 awards to artists--the most in a single night in our history.