By Charles Storch

Tribune staff reporter

Published March
29, 2007

Kartemquin Educational Films was started in 1966 by three
University of Chicago
graduates with a passion for socially relevant documentaries. Woodstock
Institute was begun in 1973 by elderly philanthropists concerned about racial
injustice and discriminatory housing and investment.

Over the decades, both Chicago
non-profits have grown in stature, if not in size. Impressed with their
vitality and ability to effect change, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Foundation has named them, along with six other small non-profits from around
the world, winners of its MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective
Institutions.

The awards, now in their second year, are inspired by
MacArthur’s annual “genius” grants for individuals.

“While [the eight groups] have already made a huge
difference in the world, we believe that they are poised to have an even
greater impact,” said Jonathan Fanton, head of the $6.12 billion Chicago
foundation.

All eight are current or past MacArthur grantees. None
has an annual budget exceeding $1.6 million. At a June 7 ceremony here, winners
with budgets below $1 million are to receive $350,000 and the others $500,000.

“What is so gratifying about this award is that it
acknowledges we are still creative,” said Gordon Quinn, a co-founder and
president of Kartemquin, which will receive $500,000.

Kartemquin’s other co-founders, Stanley Karter and Jerry
Temaner, left long ago. Quinn, 65, has seen Kartemquin evolve from a collective
of young filmmakers into a more traditionally structured arts organization with
a permanent staff and active board of directors.

Along the way was the breakthrough hit “Hoop
Dreams.” That 1994 documentary led the way for more Kartemquin films of
great human interest and wide appeal, such as “Vietnam,
Long Time Coming,” “Stevie” and the 2004 PBS series “The
New Americans.” Two of Kartemquin’s films in progress are being produced
in association with the Tribune and based on reporting by the paper’s staff.

Quinn said his group will use the award to digitize some
older films, fund a fellowship for minority filmmakers and finance staff development.
Quinn said he wants to hire an executive director so he can concentrate on
being artistic director.

Quinn credits his staff of five, most of them in their
30s or 40s, with providing new energy and ideas. He also believes Kartemquin’s
decision to remain small has helped it maintain creative ties with filmmakers.

“If you are a small organization, you have to stay
nimble and constantly figure out where you add value,” said Malcolm Bush,
president of the Woodstock Institute, which is to receive $350,000 from
MacArthur.

Woodstock
began as an expression of the social concerns of the late Sylvia and Aaron
Scheinfeld of Chicago. The
non-profit, with a budget today of about $700,000, seeks to research, develop
and promote ways to improve access and pricing of checking accounts, mortgages,
small business loans and other financial products to people of low and moderate
incomes. It has fought for access to responsible credit and against
“redlining” of financial services in minority neighborhoods and
predatory home and consumer loans.

MacArthur said, “Woodstock
has expanded economic opportunity for individuals and strengthened low-income
communities, both in Chicago and
nationally.”

Woodstock
also is a voice in state and federal policy debates and an adviser to community
development groups overseas.

In an e-mail from Brazil,
Bush said he and his full-time staff of five stay in close contact with
communities, researchers, policy makers and financial institutions. Those
contacts help keep Woodstock’s
research “very relevant, very reliable and very usable.”

He said Woodstock
will use the award to build its cash reserve, upgrade computer systems and
Web-based services, and improve research.

The other award winners are:

– Action Health Inc. of Yaba,
Nigeria, $500,000. This
group works to improve the sex education of young people, particularly
regarding HIV/AIDS. Its award is to go for a residential training center and
library.

– Institute for Security and Democracy of Mexico
City, $500,000. It works with police and others to
improve public security and respect for human rights. Its award will go toward
a police-accreditation center.

– Institute of Law
and Public Policy in Moscow,
$500,000. It is an independent adviser to Russia’s
Constitutional Court and
advocate for international human rights. Its award is to be used for lawyer
training.

– National Housing Law Project of Oakland,
$500,000. It is an advocacy center for tenants’ and homeowners’ rights and for
affordable housing. Its award is to go toward a cash reserve, staff and
communications systems.

– Resources Himalaya Foundation of
Katmandu, Nepal,
$350,000. It works with local scientists to help protect biodiversity. It is to
use its award for office space and research.

– Society for Education, Welfare and Action — Rural of Jhagadia,
India, $350,000. It
provides health education and training, with special attention to preventing
maternal mortality. It is to use its award for a reproductive health training
and resource center.