CHALLENGE AMERICA: Grant Program Description

The Challenge America category offers support primarily to small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations -- those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability. Age alone (e.g., youth, seniors) does not qualify a group as underserved; at least one of the underserved characteristics noted above also must be present. Grants are available for professional arts programming and for projects that emphasize the potential of the arts in community development.

This category encourages and supports the following objective:

  • Engagement: Engaging the public with diverse and excellent art.

Challenge America grants:

  • Extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations.
  • Are limited to the specific types of projects outlined below.
  • Are for a fixed amount of $10,000 and require a minimum $10,000 match.

Partnerships can be valuable to the success of these projects. While not required, applicants are encouraged to consider partnerships among organizations, both in and outside of the arts, as appropriate to their project.

To ensure that Challenge America funding reaches new organizations and communities, the NEA has implemented a policy to limit consecutive-year funding.

Starting with grants that were awarded in FY 2013 (as indicated by a grant letter dated on or after October 1, 2012, and a grant number beginning with "13 - 78"), an organization that receives Challenge America grants for three years in a row is not eligible to apply to the category for the following one-year period. Therefore, an organization that has received grants in FY 2015, 2016, and 2017 may not apply under these FY 2018 guidelines. That organization may apply for FY 2018 support under other Arts Endowment funding opportunities including Art Works. The organization would be able to apply to the Challenge America category again in FY 2019.


This category supports focused, distinct projects that take place over limited periods of time and involve limited geographic areas. Such projects generally are smaller in scale and shorter in duration than those in the Art Works category.

All projects must extend the reach of the arts to populations that have limited access to the arts due to geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability. The involvement of experienced artists and arts professionals is essential. Each applicant must present a straightforward project that reflects only one of the three project types below. Grants are available only for:

  • Guest Artist project type, which refers to an arts event or events that will feature one or more guest artists. Guest Artist is currently the most common Challenge America project type. The guest artist is engaged specifically for the proposed project, and is not considered a resident artist, regular company member, or individual currently serving on the artistic staff of the applicant organization.

    Guest artist(s) should reflect the artistic disciplines of the National Endowment for the Arts, which may include musicians, composers, conductors, actors, directors, dancers, choreographers, curators, visual artists, writers, or media artists. The intention of the Guest Artist project type is to provide National Endowment for the Arts support to the applicant organization and its community to engage with an artist(s) and present a public event that might otherwise not be accessible to audiences that have historically been underserved.

    Allowable guest artist event activities are broad, and may include a festival; exhibition; literary reading; musical, theatrical, or multi-media performance; media screening; broadcast; or lecture. The event(s) may take place in an arts venue or a non-traditional arts venue, but it must be in a location that is accessible to the public. In addition to guest artist fees, there can be a range of other costs and activities associated with the project, including public relations, professional documentation, and program enhancements that are integral to the event. Examples of program enhancements include interpretive material, transportation, program accommodations (e.g., sign language interpretation, audio description, Braille, tactile exhibit tours), catalogues, brochures, or publications. Other enhancements such as specific lecture-demonstrations, pre- or post-event talks, or workshops relevant to the proposed arts event are also eligible.

    The guest artist’s role in the required, culminating public event should be clearly described within the application narrative, including the schedule of activities.

NOTE: Projects that involve curriculum-based arts instruction are not eligible. (See Arts Education in the Art Works category.) Non curriculum-based classes and workshops are eligible expenses but must culminate in a public event with involvement by the participating guest artist.

  • Cultural Tourism, specifically the unified promotion of community-wide arts activities and/or the development of cultural tourism products to enhance public engagement with arts and culture in communities and in cultural districts (including the marketing and promotion of arts and culture to populations that have been historically underserved). NOTE: Promotional projects for a single organization are not eligible. Unified promotion is defined as the professional assessment, design, and/or distribution of public relations and marketing tools (calendars, websites, radio and television, brochures, rack cards, signage, etc.) designed to benefit several local organizations in a community.

  • The development of professionally directed public art projects. Although many kinds of arts projects take place in the public realm, for the Challenge America category, the Public Art project type is intended to support primarily visual arts projects, which may be temporary or permanent, such as murals, sculptures, multi-media, or environmental art, developed through a meaningful community engagement process. Evidence of community involvement should be apparent in the planning, design, or fabrication of the work, and should include a professional lead artist.

    NOTE: The following are not eligible for support: Conservation, restoration, or repair of existing public art; or the development of a public art master plan. These activities may be supported in the Art Works category.

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.


Step 1 - Submit SF-424 to April 13, 2017
Register/renew by at least March 22
Submit by at least April 4
Step 2 - Submit Materials to NEA-GO April 27, 2017 to 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time on May 4, 2017
Earliest Beginning Date for National Endowment for the Arts Period of Performance January 1, 2018

If your organization applies to the Challenge America category, it may not submit another application to the Art Works category, except for a Creativity Connects project. See "Applicant Eligibility/Application Limits" for further information.


Challenge America Specialists: or 202/682-5700