CHALLENGE AMERICA: Applicant Tips
The purpose of this document goes beyond just “technical assistance” and should serve as a helpful bridge from the Grant Application Form to the Review Criteria – with tips related to common questions, issues, and reviewer feedback. We remain committed to assist you throughout the process and wish you the best of success. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org / 202-682-5700.
Using the Recent Grants Tool:
Applicants may check their organization’s grant history using the NEA’s Recent Grants tool.
- Enter your organization’s legal/IRS name in the “Organization Name” field.
- In the “From Fiscal Year” field, select 2021, and in the “To Fiscal Year” field, select 2023.
- Click “Display Results.”
- If there are any FY21, FY22, or FY23 grants listed for any of the following three programs: Grants for Arts Projects (formerly known as Art Works), Research Grants in the Arts, or Our Town, then your organization is NOT eligible to apply for Challenge America funding. Grant Fiscal Years will be indicated by an NEA award number that ends with “-21, -22, or -23”.
NOTE: Previous Challenge America, American Rescue Plan (ARP), and CARES Act applicants and grantees are eligible to apply, as long as they were not recommended for FY 2021, FY 2022, or FY 2023 funding in Grants for Arts Projects, Research Grants in the Arts, or Our Town.
Referencing Past Offer Notifications:
Recommendations for funding in FY21, FY22, or FY23 are indicated by an Offer Letter dated November 10, 2020, or later. Organizations that applied to the FY23 Grants for Arts Projects July deadline (July 7, 2022) or FY23 Our Town deadline (August 4, 2022) will receive notification of recommendation or rejection in early April 2022 and may not yet be posted to Recent Grants online.
If you have additional eligibility questions, contact us at email@example.com.
Mission and Background/History of Your Organization
The information included in this application field provides helpful context for reviewers to understand your work and project. NEA reviewers are recruited from all across the country, from diverse geographic areas. They may not be familiar with your region, your community, or your organization. Your response here will help to familiarize reviewers with your organization and situate your project within the framework of your organization and community. Details about your mission and organizational history help reviewers consider aspects of your project’s artistic excellence and artistic merit, such as its relevance and appropriateness to your constituency.
Arts Programmatic History
The information included in the Arts Programmatic History section of the Grant Application Form will be used to determine both eligibility and competitiveness.
First, your responses must demonstrate eligibility to apply for NEA funding by showing a three-year history of arts programming prior to the application deadline. Read the guidelines carefully to confirm that you are including recent, pertinent years of arts programming.
Second, your representative examples can help reviewers discern artistic excellence and artistic merit. Include just one representative example for each year. Select prior activity that is most relevant to your proposal, such as previous work in the same art form, collaborations with the same partners, and/or efforts toward similar goals. Your programming examples might demonstrate artistic excellence, your organization’s experience and relationship with your intended audience, or both.
Intended Underserved Audience/Participants/Community
Your project must engage at least one of the intended audience categories listed in the guidelines (Geography, Ethnicity, Economics, and Disability). In some cases, a project might incorporate multiple categories. Age alone (e.g., youth, seniors) does not qualify a group as an intended audience. This section of the Grant Application Form will help reviewers better understand the specific population that your project is intended to reach and how that constituency has been historically marginalized. Whenever possible, include relevant details and quantifiable demographic statistics that describe your intended audience.
This section of the Grant Application Form is where you need to describe the project and activities you are asking the NEA to fund. We don’t want a line by line description of what is in your budget, but readers want to be able to quickly answer the “What is this project about?” Be sure to thoroughly describe the logistics of your project here. It might be helpful to revisit the Challenge America Program Description as you decide how best to describe your project. As a reminder, Challenge America offers support to primarily small organizations for projects in all artistic disciplines that extend the reach of the arts to groups/communties that are underserved. The program is rooted in principles that include, but are not limited to, our recognition that:
- Some groups/communites and some geographic areas with rich cultural identities have limited grant funding opportunities, and/or have been historically underserved by national arts funding;
- Some small organizations may face barriers to accessing grant funding; and
- Some new applicants to the NEA may benefit from enhanced technical assistance resources.
We also recommend revisiting the Challenge America Review Criteria while working on your application. As reviewers read your application, they will be considering and scoring in relation to the program review criteria of artistic excellence and artistic merit. Keep in mind the published definitions for these two criteria throughout your application.
Goals and Monitoring
Your plan for evaluation helps reviewers determine the project's artistic merit. Explain how you will track accomplishments and challenges while making progress towards your goals. For example, if your goals include increasing engagement, will you record the number of participants (tickets, social media engagement, etc.)? Will you assess community response to the project (press coverage, artist/audience feedback, etc.)? How have previous experiences or data informed the current project?
Organizational Partners & Key Individuals
Artist bios provide useful information for reviewers as they consider the project’s artistic excellence. If you have not yet selected an artist, that is OK. You can include bios for artists you are considering for the project, or artists you have worked with previously. Make the artist’s prospective status very clear for reviewers in your description. Also consider and explain the role of your key individuals and organizational partners in helping you to reach and engage the intended audience/participants you identified. This additional information can show the project’s potential to reach underserved groups/communities and increase the availability of arts or cultural resources.
Work samples are an essential part of application review, especially as they relate to the artistic excellence review criteria. For the Challenge America program, the definition of artistic excellence includes two components: “quality” and “relevance”.
We’ve listed some common work sample questions below (as well as suggested remedies!). This list is not comprehensive, but offers a brief sampling, based on typical feedback from reviewers.
- I want to submit more than 3 work samples. Suggestion: Reviewers will only consider the first 3 work samples that you provide, so do not include a document with 20 links hoping that the reviewer will evaluate them all. Select your strongest 3 work samples.
- The work sample is a promotional video and you can’t get a sense of the artists involved. Suggestion: Instead select a video that identifies the artists and provides a sample of their work.
- The work sample is hard to hear or see. Suggestion: Select work samples of the highest technical quality available to you. In some cases, one excellent quality work sample might offer a better representation of your proposed project than several lower quality samples.
- Still photos were submitted for performing artists. Suggestion: Select work samples in a format relevant to the artistic discipline of your project. For example, still photos work well for visual artists; for performing arts-based projects, panelists will expect to see audio and/or video samples of proposed artists whenever possible.
- Reviewers are not able to access links that you provided as work samples. Suggestion: Be sure you provide links that are maintained online throughout the year. We will not reach out to you for updated links once review has started.
- Work samples don’t include the work of any of the project’s proposed artists. Suggestion: We understand that a variety of reasons could prevent you from submitting work samples for specific artists. Since work samples are so important for competitiveness, we suggest:
- If you haven’t yet selected an artist for your project, consider including work samples for “proposed” or “short list” artists. Or, include artists that your organization has worked with in the past as an example of the caliber of excellence that you intend for your project. Clearly state the relevance of the selected work sample (i.e. example of past organizational work, current proposed artist, etc.)
- If you are proposing a brand-new project, consider including samples from proposed artists that are representative of their body of past work. These can be included as separate files, or as URL links that take reviewers directly to samples on an artist website. Include artist credits in the descriptions, as appropriate.