The Luminarts Cultural Foundation at the Union League Club of Chicago supports young Chicago artists, writers, and musicians by selecting 20 Luminarts Fellows annually through a rigorous competitive process. Luminarts Fellows receive recognition and financial support, and are cultivated by the Foundation as they continue their artistic practice to the betterment of Chicago’s cultural landscape.
Founded in 1949 as the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation (CAF), Luminarts Cultural Foundation was created by members of the Union League Club of Chicago as a separate, not-for-profit organization. Deeply rooted in the Union League Club of Chicago, Luminarts strengthens the cultural community of Chicago by upholding the club’s century-long tradition of advocating for the arts. Luminarts is dedicated to encouraging our city’s outstanding young artists so that their emerging talent might be heard in performance halls, read within libraries and homes, and exhibited in galleries, museums, and the hallowed walls of the Union League Club.
Luminarts welcomes talented young artists of all social, economic and cultural backgrounds. As a young visual artist, musician, vocalist, or writer from the Chicago area, we invite and encourage you to compete for grants, creative opportunities, and to become Luminarts Fellows.
The Luminarts Cultural Foundation offers extensive opportunities for Luminarts Fellows, including grants/project support, lectures, workshops, mentorship and facilitated conversations that provide valuable insights into building a successful career in the arts and strengthening our community of participating artists.
Project grants from the Foundation are available to Luminarts Fellows to support residencies, master classes, exhibition expenses, professional travel, etc.
While these grants can be used for a broad array of career development opportunities, applicants must demonstrate how the funding will support this development, and how the funded experience will in turn benefit the Chicago community. Luminarts Fellows, including first- and second-place award recipients from previous years, are eligible to apply for a grant. High School winners are not eligible to apply.
For questions about project grants and eligibility click the Apply Now button below or contact the Foundation at email@example.com or call (312) 435-5961.
The Ed Paschke Art Center Artists in Residence Program is open to Luminarts Fellows, and is a collaboration with the Ed Paschke Art Center and the Luminarts Cultural Foundation at the Union League Club of Chicago. EPAC Residencies are open to Luminarts Fellows and are intended to give artists the time, space, and resources to pursue creative work in the inspired and artful surrounding that is the EPAC. It is also hoped that the EPAC Residencies provide artists with the opportunity to pursue exploration, collaboration, and community engagement.
For questions about the Ed Paschke Artists in Residence Program and eligibility click the Apply Now button below or contact the Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 435-5961.
The Union League Club of Chicago (ULC) Library Writer in Residence Program is intended to give writers the time, space, and resources to pursue creative work in the inspired surrounding that is the ULC. It is also hoped that the ULC Library Residencies provide writers with the opportunity to pursue exploration, collaboration, and perhaps community engagement.
For questions about the ULC Writer in Residence Program and eligibility click the Apply Now button below or contact the Foundation at email@example.com or call (312) 435-5961.
Luminarts supports exemplary high school students in classical music, writing, and jazz through the high school awards. Applications are reviewed by Luminarts Fellows and other outstanding artists. In addition to the monetary awards distributed, the winning high school students are often afforded the opportunity to share their work through the Foundation.
Introducing the Chicago area’s most talented, emerging young artists. Join us in celebrating their exceptional creativity and work.
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They grew me inside of my mother, which was unusual because she was dead. I developed in a darkness that was not the eager swaddle of her enveloping organs, a warmth that was not the heat of her heart-pumped blood. My mother’s life burst like a fruit in its fecundity and it was only after, once she was rotted and hollow and still, that I appeared.
I grew inside of death. I came from it.
I was told that I was cursed.
She had been keeping me a secret, so you can imagine my father’s response when the doctor approached him to discuss the viability of the fetus.
“The fetus?” I can picture Peter in this moment, that face which would remain boyish long past middle age rendered expressionless by shock and grief, the socks likely sagging and mismatched under his pant legs. He had been jolted out of an idyllic and coddled existence by the sudden collapse of my mother, and it would be years, decades even, before he truly grasped that fact. “There must be— I’m afraid I don’t—”
“It seems strange to even be discussing, given the recency of your wife’s pregnancy, but in this case the circumstances do seem to be quite miraculous.”
“Miraculous,” I am told he repeated, swaying slightly in the saccharine light of the emergency waiting room. He was steadied by a kindly, gray-haired woman who had witnessed the scene and risen from her hard-backed chair to help him. This was Mrs. Blott. Within thirty-two hours her own husband, one Harold T. Blott, aged sixty-seven, would be pronounced dead from cardiac arrest.
Mrs. Blott did not yet know this. As the story goes she patted Peter’s back and said, “There there, my dear, it seems you’ve had a shock.” She led him to a vacant chair before turning to address the doctor: “Please continue.”
The doctor scratched his temple. Behind him, the hospital doors continued to swing as his colleagues rushed from one patient to the next. Peter could hear the high-pitched beeps of the medical machines and smell the iodine.
“Yes,” said the doctor, “Right. Remarkably, the fetus seems so far to be unharmed, despite the cessation of your wife’s brain activity. With your approval, of course, we would like to continue to monitor its growth. There is a small chance we can provide the proper nutrients and simulate the role of the mother until the fetus becomes viable outside of the womb.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Blott, squeezing Peter’s shoulder, “well isn’t that the sun just now coming through the clouds?”
Peter did not know how to be a father to a little girl. He showed up every day of those thirteen months in hospital, but once I was freed from the corpse of his wife and removed from the incubators, swaddled and placed in his arms to bring home, he was at a loss. We were lucky to have Mrs. Blott, who by the end of their first meeting had taken a vested interest in our plight, and who would check in on my father to be sure that first he, and then the two of us, were fed and cleaned and rested. Peter had that way about him, of blinking those hazel eyes and adjusting his glasses in a manner that inspired the women around him to take pity.
Although he could be quite particular, and endowed me with a rigid set of rules, my father was a kind man, and because of that kindness we humored him. At times I would imagine myself to be his mother, and Mrs. Blott our compassionate relation, eager to step in when my son became demanding and severe.
“It’s for the best, dear,” Mrs. Blott would say when I’d disparage his instructions and sit stewing in my corner, “these rules mean that he cares for you. Always keep in mind your unusual circumstances. He does the best that he can.”
And I would sigh, and blow her a kiss, and comply with their wishes.
Mrs. Blott passed on a Sunday evening. I was fifteen. She was eighty years of age. Because she never came to us on Mondays, (those were her days, hers alone), it wasn’t until Tuesday at approximately ten o’clock a.m. that I knocked on the door of Peter’s study. He was seated, as he often was, at his massive oak desk, his back curved down at an uncomfortable angle so that he could examine whatever was laid out there, that silly contraption of his strapped over his glasses and extended such that its rotating lenses practically touched the yellowed paper.
He hadn’t heard me. I cleared my throat.
When he looked up the lenses on his goggles spun robotically, then retracted.
“Darling,” he said sleepily, “have you come in with my tea?”
The fact that I was not holding anything remotely tea-like was rather apparent, so I ignored his question and walked a few feet into the room, dodging piles of books and a sad, sticky plate with the remainder of his last night’s dinner.
“Mrs. Blott hasn’t been by yet,” I said. “It’s three hours after her usual time.”
I think he blinked at me, but it was difficult to tell behind the goggles.
“Well then, might you start the kettle?”
“Yes,” I said, “I will. But the point is that I’m worried about her.”
“I’m sure there’s no cause to be worried,” said my father, who rarely was, “but if it makes you feel better you might pop round. After the tea.”
Neither of us mentioned the fact that if I did pop round, and she was in some sort of trouble, I’d be the last person she’d want to help her out of it.
But I brought my father’s tea and I bundled into my raincoat and my wellies, for it was raining that day, a persistent sort of drool, and it was chilly. I walked the quarter mile to Mrs. Blott’s and rang her buzzer when I got there, my fingers stiff and purplish from cold. I shook droplets of water off of my boots and the hood of my jacket. After a minute, when Mrs. Blott still hadn’t answered, I rang again.
By this time the foreboding indigestion in my chest had sunk down into my stomach. It wasn’t like Mrs. Blott to sleep this late into the morning, it wasn’t like her to be tardy, or to leave town without letting us know when she’d be back. I fished in my pocket for her key, a little silver thing that she had given me years ago in case of emergency, that I’d never had cause to use but had still kept on my key ring. It felt strange to be letting myself in, I felt dizzy and intrusive, but I twisted the key in the lock and the door opened inward with a pleasant creak.
The house was dark. It was a cottage, really, moreso than it was a house, two levels with five small rooms and uneven flooring. She’d decorated in pastel florals, each room was curtained and cushioned in a different muted bloom. She also had a cat, a mottled brown and orange thing named Abingdon, who mewed when I entered and sauntered up to greet me, aiming to press against my leg. I stepped back instinctively.
“Hello?” I whispered, because whispering seemed, in the moment, to be the thing to do. Abingdon followed me through the kitchen and up the stairs to the bedroom door. “Hello?” It was slightly cracked and so I pushed it open.
Nothing I could have done about the out-dated map
of northwest Indiana my dad handed me in our driveway
as he said Here Mag, placing it like a pumpkin
in my palm, you’re gonna wanna use this
if you get lost. Nothing I could have said either to the interstate
construction, black stick figures digging on orange signs
warning drivers of road work, beneath dirty clouds
billowing from steel mill towers, underneath the white sun
casting shadows of airplanes on the lake. Days earlier,
the manager of the ice cream parlor where I worked
pouring batter into waffle irons gave me four tickets
to a Gary RailCats minor league baseball game.
With three friends in my red Cavalier, we drove
the thirty-five minutes from Valparaiso into Gary
and missed our exit in a river of two-lane traffic
when a semi blocked our route to the stadium.
The next two exits after that no longer existed
so we kept driving, into the city’s center where the steam rose
from sewers like souls of men stolen by assembly lines,
and blue city flags hung, heads down, in the wind.
For years I had heard people say not to find yourself in Gary,
a city once notched in the Factory Belt of America
now a rusted old Mustang on cinder blocks in the driveway
of a boarded-up house. This city that once welcomed immigrants
from Italy, Greece, Poland, Russia, the Balkans, Ireland, and Germany
to its steel shoreline, this city that said hello with a handshake
of iron to 9,000 Mexicans by the 1930s and a wave of African-Americans
coming from the South in the Great Migration, this city once dubbed
the “Magic City,” who birthed the Jackson 5 and King of Pop,
this city rooted in The Region, that corner pocket of Indiana
that is not Indiana, where Chicago overflows the Illinois border
carrying a legacy of white flight, this city now left
for dead. Streets lined with abandoned grocery stores, theatres,
cathedrals where now only pigeons come to pray,
hooded stoplights, auditoriums, the empty swimming pool
at the Sheraton Hotel the earth has started to reclaim—
we drove those streets looking for a baseball stadium
and listening for gunshots. Four out of place suburban white kids.
What did we know about decay, about the ghost of history
whose breath smells like freight trains in winter, whose skin
flakes like paint off a laundry mat door?
When we figured out where we were supposed to turn,
my car like a rash on the road, I turned the wrong way
down a one-way street toward four lanes of traffic
and a corroded blue caddie in my lane who did not slow down,
who wanted, I think, to see if I would turn away first,
which I did, onto another one-way in the wrong direction,
this time on a street with a boarded-up drug store,
a brick wall mural of the Jackson 5, dog asleep
on the front page of The Times, and on a billboard,
cracked and peeling, weathered and warped,
Gary Welcomes You Home.
You serve the family. The family doesn’t serve you. Wash the rice and put it in the rice cooker. Do not spill a single grain of rice, it’s such a waste. Obey your parents. Obey your father. Don’t talk back to your mother. Your parents know best and you are a child. You are a girl. You musn’t act like a boy. You musn’t speak like a boy. You musn’t look like a boy. You must be thin and pretty and demure. Korean beauty is pale, unblemished skin—but I like playing outside. Do not play outside. You tan too easily, so stay inside. Clean the kitchen. Clean the bathroom. Clean the house. You must learn how to cook. You cannot be a girl without knowing how to cook—but I don’t like to cook. You have to cook well or you will be a useless wife when you are older. This is how you serve food to your family. Your father is the man and the oldest, so he eats first, but you must first set the table for your mother: a plate of fresh rice for each person, chopsticks and spoons on either side, with a bowl of soup beside the rice but only on the right side. Use chopsticks at breakfast, use forks and knives at American school, use chopsticks at dinner—but I don’t know how to use chopsticks. You will learn to eat properly or you won’t eat at all. This is how you prepare side dishes. This is how you serve them to your family, but this is how you present them to the Korean guests: each little dish must hold an appropriate amount of food and must be presented neatly and in sizeable bites, as only chopsticks will be provided, and as each dish empties you must refill them quickly. Pass around plates of rice. Hold trays of soup. Serve tea unobtrusively. Elders are served first, adults eat next, and children are last—but what if I get hungry first. It is your job as the youngest to serve those who are the oldest. You have no say in this, be quiet—but that’s not fair. Be quiet and serve the guests. This is how you must greet the Korean guests: open the door for them, bow, show them inside, then organize their shoes for them in the foyer out of sight. This is how you say goodbye to the Korean guests. This is how you say goodbye when you’re the Korean guest. This is how to say goodbye when you have American guests.
Bow to the Korean adults you know. Bow to the Korean elders you don’t. Bow in greeting, farewell, or apology. Do not bow to Americans because it is not their due. When you first meet a Korean do not offer a handshake and do not expect one in return; it is a gesture reserved for Americans. We are not Americans. This is how you bow to acquaintances you’re obligated to respect: a polite incline of the head and a forward dip of the shoulders, as an acknowledgement of connection and race, but you may continue on your way without pause and without offense. This is how you bow to acquaintances you deeply respect: you stop, you face them, you take your time, and with a rigid back and stance you bow at the waist close to a 45 incline and even lower if you want to denote greater respect. But this is how you bow to your grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles on New Year’s Day, the most sacred holiday we celebrate: you kneel, and then lower your forehead to the floor, and then position your hands underneath while delicately placing them together at a point at the fingertips because you are a girl—but why doesn’t older brother bow that way? The rules are different for boys—but why are the rules different for boys? This is our culture. You must venerate tradition. You must bow to the rules. Boys deserve more respect. Boys are expected to handle more responsibility. Boys carry on the family name. Your older brother is more important than you. Your older brother gets more allowance money than you. He is the firstborn son. You are a second born daughter. You are a girl. You’re meant to support him. Your future is cemented in forming a family of your own—but what if I don’t want to get married? There is no greater importance than having children. Stop asking such questions. Focus on your duty. Give us our grandchildren.
Gerda’s work got absorbed
into Capa’s and she laid
down from a massive wound.
“How’s my camera,” she worried.
Then died. My body is inflamed
for a cause, some new war to come along
and put the whole me to test.
This is all reportage—capturing
not constructing images
that tear into ever-negatives.
More and more are always found.
What new diseases will come and what
old ones awake, what will they make
of us—a blistering, boiling roll
of film writhing in flames.
I am crying. I am not
what I think I am, and if
I were sent, or sent myself off
to document someone else’s
war, I’d be the first to throw up
my hands, or get them thrown
—see Capa’s soldier dying on a hill.
Here is a picture of me crying
into the camera, here is a poem
used as a Kleenex. Here is proof
of me wearing my body
thin for the sake of me.
I’m sitting in the back row of the bus from Da Nhang to Hoi An. It’s after midnight, and I chant Buddhist mantras in my head. Nam Mô Đại Bi Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát. My mother told me to say this when I was scared, hurt, or confused. It’s the mantra of the bodhisattva of mercy, a call to inner peace…but in that moment the thought filling my head wasn’t a peaceful mantra, but instead, “Fuck, we’re going to get shot.”
This was the third time in as many days on the medical volunteering trip that we were facing death, and maybe my luck had run out.
When I first told my mother about this mission trip, I said, “It’ll be safe, Mom, I promise.” The only dangers would be someone getting pickpocketed or narrowly avoiding being run over in a country where traffic laws were barely even guidelines and something more like friendly suggestions. At most, I expected that my Vietnamese name coupled with my American passport might give me some trouble at customs or some suspicious looks from government officials, but physical danger seemed unlikely.
It would be my first trip back to Viet Nam since I visited ten years earlier. I wanted to actually remember Viet Nam this time, to form a coherent image of my motherland that would be more than the scraps of culture gleaned from my parents and my aunts. I spent more time playing the token Asian for my friends rather than being a Vietnamese Chinese American.
My parents fled Viet Nam in 1979 while my mother was pregnant with my older brother. It was their third attempt to flee the country, and they survived months lost at sea and a year in a refugee camp until they came to Colorado in 1980. The war had claimed friends, classmates, and my father’s brother, but they still loved their country. My father still dreams of a democratic Viet Nam. The South Viet Nam flag hangs in his study- bright yellow with three red stripes- his protest against the Communist star of Ho Chi Minh.
My mother used to set me to washing herbs in the kitchen while she cooked so she could lecture while she stirred or sliced through vegetables. She would explain how it was better in Viet Nam as she poured vegetable oil into the wok.
“The education was better, Aimy.” In went slices of fresh garlic to sizzle in the oil.
She would pull the freshly washed leaves and stems of rau muong from my hand. “Chua ơi My, đồ ăn rất ngon. Có thể tìm thấy những đồ ăn rất ngon trên đường phố.” “My god Aimy,” she would say, “the food was so delicious. You could find the best food just along the streets.”
When the morning glory leaves had wilted, she would toss in the just seared slices of beef. She would explain that children were taught to respect their parents, not like here in the United States, not like me. The time spent in my mother’s kitchen was her perfect opportunity to remedy this American wrong, to put me back on the path of the dutiful daughter who was never allowed to forget that I had never experienced and never would experience my parents’ Viet Nam.
A turn of her wrist and the rau muong xau would be ready for serving, and my curious questions would go unanswered because, after all, I would be interrupting my mother. Usually by this point, she no longer needed me to participate or even nod that I had heard—our dialogue turned monologue. She would remind me as we sat down to dinner that our quality of life was so much better, and without fail she would always say, “Mày gua hên mày có cha mẹ sống đau khổ đi vượt biển.” She would say, “I was so lucky to have parents who had sacrificed so much to give me a life in the United States.”
She told me of how corrupt the Communist government was, of how impoverished so many of the people were. My brothers, the product of an interracial marriage with our Chinese father, would never have been allowed to go to college and become successful men. Viet Nam had become in my mother’s eyes a twisted version of its former glory, a lesson in the evils of Communism and what happens when an army gives up too early. My mother would tell me if they had stayed in Viet Nam, I would never have been born.
On that bus to Hoi An, I’m not thinking about any of this. Instead, I’m blowing Paige’s and Saige’s blonde hair out of my face and wondering how they can both be sound asleep on my shoulders while I can’t get anywhere beyond drowsy. We pass by a series of lights, and then there’s a jolt as the driver pulls over.
Some officers in Viet Nam carry rifles, and how they pull you over is they point the gun at your vehicle. Cô Binh, our leader, wakes up, and I can’t catch the fast Vietnamese between her and the driver, but they sound worried. I peek out the back window and see two officers approaching.
The soldiers reach the bus, tapping the rifle against each row of windows. It’s quiet except for the sound of the rifle and the rain. Tap. Tap. Tap. The two of them climb onto the bus, asking what our business is. In the light of the front cabin, I can see the wet barrel of the gun. It would be easy for him to tip it in our direction and aim. I’m dead center down the aisle.
“Nam Mô Đại Bi Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát ,” I mouth, “Con xin Phật…” I wish for my life and our group’s lives. I wish for the same luck we had during near death experience number one in Sapa when our vans nearly drove off the mountain in the torrential rain. I wish for the same luck I had the night before. After some back and forth and several hundred American dollars, the soldiers leave, telling our bus driver to not speed again. A sardonic tip of the hat to Cô Binh, and they’re gone. As everyone falls back asleep, I lay awake and feel silly because I know that they never would have killed a bus full of American physicians and teenage volunteers, but that gun reminded me of our night train from Sapa to Hanoi- near-death experience number two of the trip.
It came as no surprise to Cô Binh that there were complications with our train tickets. It seemed we didn’t have enough sleeper cars. The overly officious officer suggests that our error means we must rebook for the next train several days later. We have a strict itinerary of clinic and school visits so what we do instead is cram ourselves into the few available.
There are seven girls in our 7×6 cabin, splitting four bunks and the floor. I volunteer for the floor because the miniscule increase in space outweighed my slight fear of a roach crawling on me or one of the girls rolling off of their bunk into either Saige or me. We’re settled in and treating it like a big sleepover. Eventually, we start changing from our modest below the knee shorts, skirts, and capris and loose short-sleeved tops into sleep clothes. To deal with the heat, Phuc and Andy are in tank tops. Paige, Saige, Audrey, and Jasmine end up in thin t-shirts. I change into an oversized mission T-shirt and a pair of shorts before taking the last turn for the restroom.
Two male guards stand by the restroom door at the end of the car. I say, “Ciao,” and avoid eye contact. Before I came to Viet Nam, my mother warned me that native Vietnamese men often assumed us foreign-born were easy, corrupted by American ways. As I walk into the stall, turning sideways so I can avoid touching either of them in the narrow space, one of the guards runs his hands up and down the barrel of his rifle as I try to ignore him.
When I emerge, he is right outside the door. I have nowhere to go, and the other guard is gone. He leers and offers me a cigarette. I say, “Cảm ơn nhưng cháu không hút thuốc. “ No thank you. I don’t smoke. I can’t look at his eyes so my gaze moves from the mustache fuzz on his sweaty upper lip to the tan line partially visible out of his collar to the dimming fluorescent light of the narrow hall.
He tells me, “Đừng sợ em. Anh sẽ không nói với sếp cua em oi.” Don’t be afraid. I won’t tell your boss. “Our secret,” he says.
His stance is wide, blocking my way down the hall, and his other hand is resting on his gun, fingers drumming a rhythm. He takes a step closer to me, and I stare at the shortening gap—inches at most— between his arm and the restroom door.
I tell him I have to go back, that my friends are waiting for me, that I must sleep. I sound like I’m babbling, and I think back to the Lifetime Movies my mother made me watch to learn how to avoid all the terrible fates women could suffer. Say things. Humanize yourself. Maybe they’ll let you go. I use the diminutive “cháu” each time because cháu is what a niece uses for her uncle, a granddaughter to her grandfather, a seventeen year old girl to an intimidating soldier. Instead he responds with “em,” a pronoun that can be innocuous, but from him sounds too familiar. He offers me a sip from his flask. “Đi bên ngoài em. Việt Nam rất đẹp vào ban đêm.” Just come outside. Viet Nam can be so pretty at night.
It’s when he gestures that I make a break for it, dodge his arm, and do everything, but run to the room. I’m panicked and shaky, but I don’t say much. I don’t say anything at all. I just lock the door and put my pack up against it, pretending it’s just a pillow and not a pathetic attempt at a defense. A few minutes pass before the knock. We crack it open, and there he is gun first, offering his cigarette. I step behind Saige as she says a hurried, “No thank you,” before closing the door against his arm. Everyone laughs, and after a second’s hesitation, I join in as Phuc, the other Vietnamese American girl, jokes about the guard. Lying by the door, I spend the night listening to his steps, measured except for when he pauses outside our room, the butt of his rifle hitting the ground. I can hear him laugh. I know just enough Vietnamese curse words to get the sense of a lewd discussion.
So I lay there.
And I count his steps. It takes him fifteen steps to get from one end of the car to our door. Forty steps to come back.
I think of the way he must be looking at the room.
Five more steps until he’s back by the door.
I think of how close I came to getting dragged outside the car to…
I think of the way he was holding his gun jutting out to remind me it was there. I think of the smell of the alcohol from the flask.
I think of how long my friends would have waited before looking for me.
I think of home. I think of Denver. I think of the detachment I used to feel from my Vietnamese heritage, the feeling of wanting to know and understand my culture, but always being removed. The spaces between Chinese and Vietnamese and American left room for micro aggressions to slip into my Asianness until I could no longer close or bridge those spaces.
I think of what my mother would say. I told you so Aimy. This trip would be dangerous Aimy. It’s the Communists, Aimy. They’ve ruined my country. This would never have happened if we had won the war. She would tell me I should have been careful, that I shouldn’t have been alone, that I shouldn’t have worn shorts because the Communists, they’ll think you are easy. That two to three inch difference in length changes you from modest to an American whore.
He’s outside the door.
I think my mother’s wrong. I think I’m wrong. I think about how to come home to those spaces, how to straddle them and make them mine.
Nam Mô Đại Bi Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát.
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