ART WORKS Guidelines: Arts Education

The National Endowment for the Arts' vision for Arts Education is that every student is engaged and empowered through an excellent arts education. Arts education is vital to developing America's next generation of creative and innovative thinkers, and every student should have the opportunity to participate in the arts, both in and out of school. We know that students who participate in the arts are more engaged in life and are empowered to be fulfilled, responsible citizens who can make a profound positive impact on this world. In addition, NEA-supported research has shown that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who have arts-rich experiences are more likely to achieve key positive outcomes—academically, socially, and civically—compared with their peers who lack access to arts experiences.

Arts Education funding is focused on students. Projects are for pre-K-12 students, the educators and artists who support them, and the schools and communities that serve them. All students are served when each level of the system is supported. Applicants should consider what role their proposed project plays within this system, and the impact their project has on students. We support three types of projects -- Direct Learning, Professional Development and Collective Impact.

NOTE: Arts Education projects may be in any artistic discipline. Projects for short-term arts exposure, arts appreciation, or intergenerational activity should not be submitted under Arts Education; rather, they should be submitted under the appropriate artistic discipline. If you have questions about whether you should apply under Arts Education or some other discipline, read "Choosing the Right Discipline for Youth Projects."


Art Works applications will be accepted at two deadlines. All project types (described below) are accepted at both deadlines. Generally, an organization is limited to one application per year in the Art Works category.

First Art Works Deadline:

Step 1 - Submit SF-424 to February 16, 2017
Register/renew by at least January 25
Submit by at least February 7
Step 2 - Submit Materials to NEA-GO February 23, 2017 to March 2, 2017
Earliest Announcement of Grant Award or Rejection November 2017
Earliest Beginning Date for National Endowment for the Arts Period of Performance January 1, 2018

Second Art Works Deadline:

Step 1 - Submit SF-424 to July 13, 2017
Register/renew by at least June 21
Submit by at least July 4
Step 2 - Submit Materials to NEA’s new applicant portal July 20, 2017 to July 27, 2017
Earliest Announcement of Grant Award or Rejection April 2018
Earliest Beginning Date for National Endowment for the Arts Period of Performance June 1, 2018


We support three types of projects:

  • Direct Learning
  • Professional Development
  • Collective Impact

Funded projects across all three project types will utilize and test innovative strategies, or scale up proven methodologies, for increasing access to arts education. Applicants should describe the national, regional, or field-wide significance of the project, including local projects that can have significant impact within communities or are likely to demonstrate best practices for the field.

Applications for all project types are accepted at both deadlines. Community-based and school-based projects are accepted at both deadlines. Apply at the deadline that most closely fits the schedule of activities or timeline of your proposed project.

Direct Learning Grants

Projects support arts instruction for students, generally pre-K through 12th grade, that result in increased knowledge and skills in the arts and occur inside or outside the school system. Projects should engage students over an extended period of time during or outside the regular school day schedule. Activities may be offered by school districts, arts organizations, non-arts organizations or agencies in partnership with artists and/or arts groups. Projects could take place in locations such as schools, arts organizations, community centers, faith-based organizations, makerspaces, public housing, tribal community centers, and/or juvenile facilities.

Applicants applying in Direct Learning should convey how their projects are distinctive and deepen the arts learning experience for students by offering fresh insights and adding new value to the field. Applicants may provide examples of how they are using data to inform programmatic decision making, scaling up or expanding existing arts education services, incorporating effective community partnerships, or working within a larger system or community effort to benefit students in that system.

Direct Learning projects should address each of the following elements:

Experience: Participants experience exemplary works of art -- in live form where possible -- to gain increased knowledge and skills in the art form.

Create: Informed by their experience in an art form, participants will create or perform art.

Assess: Student learning is measured and assessed in alignment with national or state arts education standards. At the conclusion of the project, grantees will be required to describe the assessment methods used to assess learning, and may submit tools used to assess learning with their Final Report. Where appropriate, applicants also may describe project outcomes that use the arts to address youth development, college, career, or citizen readiness or affect change in school or community culture such as school attendance, graduation or recidivism rates. Explain how you plan to measure those outcomes. Before applying, please review the reporting requirements for Learning.  

Professional Development Grants

Projects support opportunities for classroom teachers, arts specialists, teaching artists, school/district administrators, other educators, and community leaders to learn how to engage students in high quality arts learning and improve instruction.

If a proposed Professional Development project is part of a larger system or community effort to increase access to arts education for students, please state that in the application.

Professional Development projects should include all of the following elements:

Experience: Participants have an experience in or through the arts.

Study: Participants are engaged in a sustained, in-depth course of study.

Evaluate: Participant learning is evaluated and the impact of the professional development on practice is measured. Before applying, please review the reporting requirements for Learning.  

Collective Impact Grants

Projects increase student access to arts education through collective, systemic approaches. Projects should aim to ensure that all students across entire neighborhoods, schools, school districts, and/or states – in communities of all sizes – participate in the arts over time. John Kania and Mark Kramer have shown how collective efforts have a greater impact on social change than individual efforts in their "Collective Impact" article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

We anticipate making a limited number of grants at higher award levels for longer term, large-scale projects that use a collective, systemic approach to provide arts education to students. Longer project periods are encouraged (up to two years) and projects should have significant potential to be shared and customized in communities across the country.

These projects should embrace the following principles, which may be ongoing and occur at any point during the project:

Round graphic containing five interconnected circles: Planning, Shared Measurement, Partnership, Data, Programming

  • Partnership: Cross-sector partners work to determine a common vision, define goals, develop strategies, and identify measurable objectives for arts education. Partners may include arts organizations, units of government, school systems, funders, community organizations, or institutions of higher education. Priority will be given to projects that include a managing partner that is the coordinating entity, and involve at least three cross-sector organizations, one of which is an arts/cultural organization.
  • Data: Data informs decision making. This may include asset mapping of community resources, collecting student data, or creating new data collection tools.
  • Planning: A plan outlines system-wide arts education implementation. This should include a description of each partner's role in achieving the common vision, as well as plans for communication among the partners and sustainability.
  • Programming: Activities support the plan. Programming may include services to students, professional development, curriculum design, or convening stakeholders.
  • Shared Measurement: A shared measurement system is an evaluation system that assesses the progress of each project partner's work towards common outcomes—increasing student participation in arts education and, as appropriate, societal well-being for students.

Collective Impact projects are multi-year, ongoing, systemic initiatives. Please specify in the application which phase(s) of the project are included in the request for NEA funding. All phases of a project - building partnerships, data collection, planning, programming, and shared measurement - are eligible for support.

All project costs included in the Project Budget must be incurred within the period of performance.

Identify the project as either Emerging or Sustaining.

Emerging projects are in the initial phase of work to establish an arts education plan. Projects may include cultivation of partners, convenings, collection of data, or creation of an arts education plan.

Sustaining projects have an arts education plan in place. These projects may continue work from the emerging phase, be in the programming and evaluation stage, or scaling up proven efforts to increase arts education access. These projects must demonstrate how they are disseminating project information to the fields of arts education, public education, and beyond.

(NOTE: If any partner in the project has been a past participant in the National Endowment for the Arts' Education Leaders Institute (ELI), indicate that in your application. Describe if and how the proposed project supports or is aligned to efforts made as a result of participation in ELI.)

Before applying, please review the reporting requirements for Learning.

If you are recommended for a grant, your project may be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act  (NEPA) and/or the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Endowment for the Arts will conduct a review of your project to ensure that it is in compliance NEPA/NHPA.

Some of the common project types that garner a review are:

  • A project involving or occurring near a district, site, building, landscape, structure or object that is 50 years old and therefore eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The commissioning and installation of temporary or permanent outdoor furnishings such as benches or market structures or art such as a sculpture or mural.
  • An arts festival in a park.
  • Design planning and services for projects that may involve a historic site, structure, or district.

This review and approval process may take up to several months to complete and may delay your project's start date and our ability to make a grant award/our ability to release grant funds.

To learn more about what questions you will need to answer for the review of a project impacted by the National Environmental Policy Act and/or the National Historic Preservation Act, see here.

Note: Federal regulations require that all NEA-funded projects be accessible to people with disabilities. Funded activities must be held in an accessible venue and program access and effective communication must be provided for participants and audience members with disabilities. If your project is recommended for funding, you will be asked to provide information describing how you will make your project physically and programmatically accessible to people with disabilities.

We Do Not Fund

In addition to the "We Do Not Fund" section for all applicants, funding under the Arts Education discipline is not available for research on the value of arts education. Applicants may consider our research grant opportunity for support of research projects.

Choosing the Right Discipline for Youth Projects

If you are proposing a Collective Impact project, a pre-K through 12th grade Professional Development project, or a Direct Learning project that aligns with either national or state arts education standards, choose Arts Education.

For more information on national or state arts education standards, see here.

If the target audience is intergenerational, then you should consider submitting your application directly to one of the artistic disciplines rather than to Arts Education. Applications for projects for youth where the focus is exposure to or appreciation of the arts -- whether activities take place in school, after school, during the summer, or in community settings -- should be submitted directly to the appropriate artistic discipline in the Art Works category. Such projects may include performances by or exhibitions of professional artists. Arts events may be accompanied by ancillary learning activities (e.g., study guides for teachers and students, artists' visits prior to or following the event, workshops, lecture-demonstrations, or master classes).