ART WORKS Guidelines: Design

From the typeface on this page to the neighborhood in which you live, every object and place is the result of design. Design surrounds us and has a direct impact on the quality of our lives. Furthermore, designers fuel innovation by employing creative thinking to solve problems, drive economic development, and address social issues. The design field encompasses many disciplines including, but not limited to, architecture, communications and graphic design, fashion design, historic preservation, industrial and product design, interior design, landscape architecture, planning, universal design, social impact/public interest/human centered design, rural design, and urban design. The National Endowment for the Arts recognizes design's ever-present impact on society by funding activities that encourage, preserve, and disseminate the best in American and global design.

We often receive questions from potential applicants about the appropriate discipline for their project. Applications that address multiple design disciplines (e.g., urban design and graphics) should be submitted under Design. Similarly, historic preservation organizations that focus on architecture, landscape architecture, or designed objects also should apply under Design. Museums and visual arts venues presenting a design exhibition or installation should contact staff to determine whether to apply under Design or under Museums or Visual Arts. Finally, applicants should be aware that we do not fund capital campaigns, construction costs, or the purchase or leasing of sites or structures, though we can support the design process all the way through construction documentation. Please contact us if you have further questions.


The application deadline for all projects is February 15, 2018. (There is no July deadline.)

First Art Works Deadline:

Part 1 - Submit SF-424 to February 15, 2018
Part 2 - Submit Materials to Applicant Portal February 20-27, 2018
Earliest Announcement of Grant Award or Rejection November 2018
Earliest Beginning Date for National Endowment for the Arts Period of Performance January 1, 2019

Note: To allow time to resolve any problems you might encounter, we strongly recommend that you register/renew your registration by at least January 24, 2018 and submit the SF-424 to by at least February 6, 2018.

The Design program supports projects across a wide array of design types, in two main areas of work.

Projects that have a public benefit:

  • Design competitions.
  • Exhibitions, tours, publications, or websites that provide new insights about specific designed objects, places, or designers, or design thinking, history, or movements.
  • Historic and community preservation projects that promote awareness of cultural and historic assets.
  • Commissions and production of new work.
  • Design or planning for new arts/cultural buildings, districts, neighborhoods, public spaces, or landscapes.
  • Charrettes, outreach, or community workshops for new design projects.
  • Community-wide or neighborhood planning and design activities that promote economic and cultural vitality; involve community-based partnerships; and assist underserved communities or neighborhoods.
  • Design exhibitions, residencies, and other activities in public spaces that are intended to foster community interaction and/or enhance the unique characteristics of a community.
  • Adaptive reuse of historic properties for cultural and arts uses.
  • Projects that utilize new media, technology, or new models to connect citizens or engage them in design projects.
  • Design products, projects, or approaches that foster positive social impact/public interest design or employ universal design concepts, or foster design and science/technology collaborations.

Projects that advance or support the design field:

  • Conferences, symposia, and other gatherings that promote innovation in design practice or education, universal design, science/technology collaborations with design, or the heritage and conservation of design.
  • Workshops or residencies for designers.
  • Documentation and preservation of historic design work.
  • Design research or collaboration projects that examine current practice and propose design solutions for pressing problems.
  • Design or planning for designer live/work spaces.
  • Innovative technology projects or new media projects meant to advance the design field or design theory.
  • Education, mentorship, apprenticeship, and outreach activities that teach design practices to American communities.
  • Education initiatives that prepare designers for careers in the emerging fields of design.
  • Innovative practices in design learning for Americans of all ages.
  • Projects that support emerging fields of design, including social impact/public interest/human interest design; universal design; and the application of design thinking to science, health, education, and economic development.
  • The development of plans for growth of the design sector in the local community.
  • Innovative festivals, tours, or programming that raise awareness of design.

National Environmental Policy Act and/or the National Historic Preservation Act Review

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 with NEPA/NHPA.

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

  • A project involving or occurring near a district, site, building, landscape, structure or object that is at least 50 years old or older and therefore included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (please note that in some instances, buildings or structures may be included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places that are less than 50 years old).
  • 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. The results of the review may impact 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.