OUR TOWN: Frequently Asked Questions

Basics  | Review Process | Other National Endowment for the Arts Grants | Budget and Cost Share/Matching Funds | Eligible Partners | Local Government Entity | Letters of Endorsement/Statements of Support | Other

Updated 6/23/20

Can our organization use funds we received from the Small Business Administration (SBA) as cost share/match for an Arts Endowment grant?

No. Federal funds are not allowed to be used as cost share/match for federal grants (2 CFR §200.306). In addition, the Arts Endowment’s enabling legislation does not allow any federal funds to be used as cost share/match for its grants. This includes the Paycheck Protection Program from the SBA, as well as other federal funding, including funding from:

  • Corporation for National and Community Service (e.g., AmeriCorps)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • National Park Service
  • National Science Foundation
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Department of Education (e.g., 21st Century Community Learning Centers)
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Or an entity that receives federal appropriations such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or Amtrak

Note that organizations are eligible to apply for Arts Endowment funding even if they have applied for and received funding from the SBA, provided the organization isn't double-claiming any individual's salary. Recipients will be required to keep documentation to show which employees are being paid from each funding source so that the government isn't paying more than 100 percent of a salary. Applicants with additional questions about SBA programs should contact the SBA directly as we are unable to provide guidance on programs other than our own.

BASICS

What is "creative placemaking?"
A: Creative placemaking is when the arts, culture, and design integrate into efforts that strengthen communities by advancing local economic, physical, and/or social outcomes through partnerships with other sectors such as agriculture and food, economic development, education and youth, environment and energy, health, housing, public safety, transportation, and workforce development. The online storybook 'Exploring Our Town' has illustrative examples of Our Town grant projects and insights into doing creative placemaking for practitioners. You may download our free publication, How to Do Creative Placemaking and look at additional creative placemaking resources on our website.

Could you tell us about the future of the Our Town initiative?
It is our hope that Our Town will continue as an annual program, but as with all federal programs it is subject to funding availability.

What is the success rate for applicants?
Based on numbers from previous years, Our Town applications have a success rate of roughly 25%. 

If we received an Our Town grant last year, can we apply again this year?
Yes, you may apply to the Our Town category for FY 2021 for a distinctly different projector a distinctly different phase of the project, from that which was funded.

How long can my grant period be?
Your grant period may be up to two years in length, and may start on July 1, 2021, or any time thereafter. If your project is part of a multi-year initiative, you may describe the broader vision but your application, including the budget, should reflect only the activities or phases of work that will occur within the grant period. 

Will projects in small towns and rural areas be competitive?
Yes. We are seeking a diverse range of applicants and encourage communities of all sizes to apply.

Can we apply for a project that addresses impacts of COVID-19?

Yes. The Our Town program seeks to leverage creative placemaking and innovative partnerships in responding to evolving and emerging local community needs. These may include efforts to support artists and cultural organizations in addressing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, artist unemployment, racial inequity, and other needs that may not be clear at this specific time.

REVIEW PROCESS

How will the projects be evaluated?
Congress specified in our authorizing legislation that "artistic excellence and artistic merit" are the criteria by which all applications must be evaluated. For more detailed information about how artistic excellence and artistic merit apply to Our Town projects, see the "Review Criteria" in the guidelines.

How can I demonstrate artistic excellence for my proposed project?
A. Artistic excellence is evaluated based on the material and work samples submitted with the application. This includes a description of the process and criteria for the selection of artists, design professionals, arts organizations, works of art, or services to ensure artistic excellence; and work samples of selected or proposed artists, design professionals, arts organizations, works of art, or services that demonstrate artistic excellence. 

Who reviews and selects grantees?
All applications will be reviewed according to the review criteria of artistic excellence and artistic merit by an advisory panel composed of qualified peer experts, including at least one knowledgeable layperson, representing a range of multidisciplinary art, design, and economic and community development fields. Panel recommendations are forwarded to the National Council on the Arts, which then makes recommendations to the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. The Chairman reviews the Council's recommendations and makes the final decision on all grant awards. A list of past Our Town panelists is available on the website (see the Design discipline).

Can staff help me with my application? 
Members of Design and Creative Placemaking staff are available to answer specific questions about the application materials and forms. However, we do not review full proposals or provide edits to text or budgets in advance of the application deadline. Email OT@arts.gov with any questions.

Can I request panel comments or feedback after my project has been reviewed?
Yes. After notification of whether you've received a grant or not, you may contact OT@arts.gov to schedule a telephone conversation to receive a summary of panel comments. In such instances, you must contact us no later than 30 days after the official notification.

OTHER NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS GRANTS

Is a project eligible to receive funding from both the Our Town and Grants for Arts Projects categories?
Yes. You may apply to other National Endowment for the Arts funding opportunities, including Grants for Arts Projects, in addition to Our Town. In each case, the request must be for a distinctly different project or a distinctly different phase of the same project, with a different period of performance and costs.

If a project has received a Challenge America grant, may the same project be submitted for additional funding to Our Town or Grants for Arts Projects?
You may apply to Our Town or Grants for Arts Projects for a project already receiving a Challenge America grant, as long as you apply for a distinctly different phase of the project, with a different period of performance and costs.

BUDGET, COST SHARE, AND MATCHING FUNDS

Do all cost share/matching funds need to be committed in advance of the submission deadline?
No, but we ask you to designate on the budget form funding that is committed versus funding that is being proposed or sought. Designate committed funding with a (*) after the source.

Can funds raised prior to the project be used as part of the cost share/match?
Yes. However, cost share/matching funds must be spent on eligible activities included as part of the proposed project, during the proposed period of performance.

Can cost share/matching funds be in-kind?
Yes. No formula exists for how much of the required cost share/match can be in-kind. However, reviewers tend to look very carefully at any project with a budget that shows a cost share/match that is largely in-kind; generally, some cash cost share/match is preferred. In all cases, cost share/matching funds are evaluated in the context of the project. Remember, if you use in-kind contributions as part of your cost share/match, you need to maintain proper documentation. For help in doing this, see our sample format for recording in-kind (third party) contributions.

Can federal funds such as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) or Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funding count toward the cost share/match?
No. Even though these funds may come through your state, the original source is federal. No cost share/matching funds can be from federal sources and these should not appear in your Our Town project budget as either income or expenses. 

Can community infrastructure costs be considered part of the cost share/match for something like a streetscape project?
Costs that pertain strictly to preparing a site specifically for the art or design work, such as slabs or pedestals, landscaping that's necessary for the art work or landscaping that is the art work (e.g., a mosaic tiled walkway with landscaping that is required for the work) are allowable. Installation of street lighting or wayfinding signage are not allowed. Costs to prepare the street, including purchase of property, building appropriate access, infrastructure, etc., are not allowable and can’t be used for cost share/match. 

Are artists' or consultants’ fees eligible expenses?
Yes. Fees for individuals involved in the project are eligible, such as fees for artists, performers, designers, architects, facilitators, or other consultants. All fees must be incurred during the period of support.

Is rent for space for an event an eligible expense?
Yes, but not for a party or reception.

Can overhead be funded?
A. You may claim administrative costs or overhead as direct costs under "3. Other expenses" on the Project Budget form. (This assumes that there is a basis for justifying the costs as direct costs.) You also may use a federally negotiated indirect cost rate to account for overhead.

Can salaries for administration or additional fundraising be funded?
Salaries, contract fees, and stipends for administration and project management are allowed, as well as fund raising specifically for the approved project. 

Does sharing the funding between the two required partners count as subgranting or regranting?
No. Subgranting is defined as regranting funds to an individual or organization for activities that are conducted independently of your organization and for the benefit of the subgrantee's own program objectives.

Does anything need to be done to formalize the financial relationship between the two required partners?
When a grantee partners with another organization that will directly support project costs tied to the federal award, the grantee must ensure a contractual agreement is in place that outlines the relationship and responsibilities of each partner. In addition, the partner’s accounts and documentation will be subject to review if audited by the Arts Endowment or the grantee’s own auditors.

ELIGIBLE PARTNERS

Can a private foundation or corporate entity serve as a partner?
Partnerships must involve at least two primary partners as defined by these guidelines: a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and a local government entity. One of the two primary partners must be a cultural (arts or design) organization. Only the two primary partners can serve as lead applicants, but additional partners across all sectors are encouraged.   

Can a local government arts agency apply and fulfill the role of the cultural organization and the government agency?
Yes, but it would still need a nonprofit organization to serve as the other primary partner.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ENTITY

Can a city/town/county apply for more than one project?
Yes. However, if more than one application is submitted from a single lead applicant, local government, or within the same geographic area, the capacity of the lead applicant, local government, or geographic area to carry out and sustain multiple Our Town projects will be considered in the review of applications.

Can a county partner on more than one project?
Yes. For FY 2021, we have eliminated the limit of only two applications per community. Multiple applications may be submitted from within the same geographic area.

However, if more than one application is submitted from a single lead applicant, local government, or within the same geographic area, the capacity of the lead applicant, local government, or geographic area to carry out and sustain multiple Our Town projects will be considered in the review of applications.

Can a nonprofit partner on more than one application in different communities?
Yes. A nonprofit can partner on more than one application in different communities.

Can a tribal government entity apply?
Yes, federally recognized tribal governments qualify as local governments.

Can a regional government entity apply as a primary partner?
No, regional government entities do not qualify as local governments and may not apply as a primary partner.

Do public school districts or community colleges qualify as a local government entity?
Local education agencies (school districts) and local government-run community colleges are eligible to represent a local government entity they serve. Note that a letter of endorsement from the highest ranking official for the local government is required regardless of who the local government partner is, e.g., the superintendent of a school district cannot send the letter.

Does a state university qualify as a local government entity?
No, as with all state level entities, a state university does not qualify as a local government entity under the Our Town guidelines. If the state university has nonprofit status designated by the IRS, however, it may serve as the required nonprofit partner on an Our Town project.

Does a quasi-local government organization, such as a Business Improvement District (BID) or Chamber of Commerce, qualify as a local government entity?
No. Business improvement districts and chambers of commerce do not qualify as local government entities.

Does a U.S. territory qualify as a local government entity?
If no local government exists, the territory government can qualify as the local government. In these cases, the territory's state arts agency also may serve as the local government primary partner. However, all grant funds must be passed on to the other partners.

LETTERS OF ENDORSEMENT/STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT

If we have a local government entity on board as a partner, do we still need a letter of endorsement from the highest ranking official for the local government?
Yes. A letter of endorsement from the highest ranking official for the local government is required. We encourage each community and region to coordinate on a submission that reflects stakeholders.

How do we reach out to our highest ranking official for the local government to request a letter of endorsement?
Each community is managed differently, but we suggest checking with your local arts agency (also known as cultural affairs department or arts commission, etc.)  to determine how best to reach out to your highest ranking official for the local government.

Can you guide us as to what the letter of endorsement should contain? Do you have a template that we can use?
We do not have a template. However, the document should be a one-page formal endorsement letter, on appropriate letterhead, from the highest ranking official for the local government (e.g., mayor, county executive, or tribal leader). This letter should reflect the official's familiarity with and support for the project.

Many local government structures exist. Provide in your letter a sentence explaining why this official is the leader of the local government. For example, "In the Village of XYZ, our city manager is the highest ranking government official."

We are applying with the local government as lead applicant. Should we submit an endorsement letter from the highest ranking official for the local government, or a statement of support from the nonprofit organization? 
You are required to submit both.

Is there a limit to the number of statements of support that we can submit?
Yes. You may submit up to 10 letters of support. We encourage you to be selective in listing only the partners or individuals that are critical to the project's success, not those that are solely funding sponsors or project beneficiaries. If you are working with multiple agencies within a community, only one statement is necessary. Keep statements to one page each.

OTHER

What are some examples of measurement tools you'd like to see?
You should propose measurement tools that are feasible and appropriate for your organization and project. You will be asked to address the anticipated results in your application. If you receive a grant, you will be asked to provide evidence of those results at the end of your project. Given the nature of Our Town projects, benefits are likely to emerge over time and may not be fully measurable during the period of a grant. You will need to provide evidence of progress toward achieving improved strengthening of the community(ies) as appropriate to the project. We recognize that some projects involve risk, and we want to hear about both your successes and failures. Failures can provide valuable learning experiences, and reporting them will have no effect on your ability to receive National Endowment for the Arts funds in the future.

Beyond the reporting requirements for all grantees, selected Our Town grantees may be asked to assist in the collection of additional information that can help the National Endowment for the Arts determine the degree to which agency objectives were achieved. For example, Our Town grantees may be asked to participate in surveys or interviews, and/or may be asked to assist in publicizing and promoting these data collection efforts. You may be contacted to provide evidence of project accomplishments including, but not limited to, work samples, community action plans, cultural asset studies, programs, reviews, relevant news clippings, and playbills. Remember that you are required to maintain project documentation for three years following submission of your final report.

Can federally recognized tribes apply?
Yes. In keeping with federal policies of Tribal Self Governance and Self-Determination, we may provide support for a project with a primary audience restricted to enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe. Applicants (federally recognized tribal governments, nonprofits situated on federally recognized tribal lands, or other nonprofits whose mission primarily serves federally recognized tribal enrollees) should consult with our staff to verify their eligibility before preparing an application.

Can non-federally recognized tribes apply?
Yes, as long as the applicant is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3), U.S. organization. Projects for non-federally recognized tribes and indigenous groups may be supported, but project participation can’t be restricted to only tribal members.

Can Native Hawaiian groups apply?
Yes, as long as the applicant is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3), U.S. organization. Projects for Native Hawaiians may be supported, but project participation can’t be restricted to only Native Hawaiians.