CHALLENGE AMERICA: Program Description

FAQs for Applicants & Awardees in Response to COVID-19 »

The National Endowment for the Arts is the only arts funder in America—public or private—that provides access to the arts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Through our grantmaking to thousands of organizations each year, we support the creative capacity of communities to provide all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation. Since 2001, the Challenge America program has extended the Arts Endowment’s reach by promoting equal access to the arts in communities across America.

Challenge America offers support primarily to small organizations for projects in all artistic disciplines that extend the reach of the arts to populations that are underserved. The program is rooted in principles that include, but are not limited to, our recognition that:

  • Some populations and some geographic areas 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 applicants to the Arts Endowment may benefit from enhanced technical assistance resources.

Challenge America seeks to address these potential barriers for organizations seeking funding. The program features an abbreviated application, a standardized $10,000 grant amount, and a robust structure of technical assistance to facilitate entry to Arts Endowment funding opportunities.

This category is an entry point for organizations seeking Arts Endowment funding. First-time applicants to the Arts Endowment, as well as previous Arts Endowment applicants who have not been recommended for funding in any of the three most recent Fiscal Years (FYs 2019, 2020, or 2021) in any of the following grant programs, are eligible to apply:

  • Grants for Arts Projects (formerly known as Art Works),
  • Research Grants in the Arts, or
  • Our Town.

Previous Arts Endowment applicants recommended for FY 2019, FY 2020, or FY 2021 funding in Grants for Arts Projects (formerly known as Art Works), Research Grants in the Arts, or Our Town are not eligible to apply.

Previous Challenge America applicants and grantees are eligible to apply, as long as they were not recommended for FY 2019, FY 2020, or FY 2021 funding in Grants for Arts Projects (formerly known as Art Works), Research Grants in the Arts, or Our Town. See Applicant Eligibility for more information.

Our expectation is that organizations will eventually transition from Challenge America to Grants for Arts Projects, the Arts Endowment’s principal funding opportunity.

Projects

Challenge America supports arts projects in all artistic disciplines. Projects must extend the reach of the arts to populations that are underserved. Possible projects include, but are not limited to: arts programming, including commissioning or presentation of artists or artwork; marketing and promotional activities; and organizational planning. Projects may consist of one or more specific events or activities, and should not cover an entire season of programming. We do not support seasonal or general operating support. Applicants should carefully read the application Review Criteria and address those criteria in the application.

Applicants proposing Arts Education projects: 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 are welcome in Challenge America. Projects for youth with a pre-K-12, standards-based arts education focus should not apply to Challenge America. (See the Arts Education section of the Grants for Arts Projects funding category for more information.)

What do we mean by underserved populations?

The term “underserved,” as defined by our legislation and agency policy, refers to those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability. At least one of these characteristics must be evident in the proposed project. Age alone (e.g., youth, seniors) does not qualify a group as underserved.

As appropriate, engagement with the following constituencies is encouraged (in accordance with White House Executive Orders):

  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities,
  • Tribal Colleges and Universities,
  • American Indian and Alaska Native tribes,
  • African American Serving Institutions,
  • Hispanic Serving Institutions,
  • Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and
  • Organizations that support the independence and lifelong inclusion of people with disabilities.

Projects may focus on reaching a particular constituency; however, they may not be exclusionary under national laws and policies prohibiting discrimination. This extends to hiring practices and audience engagement.

Staff Assistance

We understand that applying for federal funding can be a significant undertaking. Our staff strives to ensure that every applicant receives the support they need to understand every step of the application process and ultimately submit the most competitive application possible.

We are available to answer questions you might have about Challenge America. Reach out to us if you have questions about whether your organization and proposed project are a good match for the Challenge America program, or about any other aspect of the application process. Contact: challengeamerica@arts.gov or 202-682-5700

For more information, see “How to Apply” in the left sidebar, as well as the application questions that you will be asked located here. 

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

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

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 50 years old and therefore potentially eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (note that in some instances, buildings or structures that are less than 50 years old may be included in or 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 outdoor arts festival.
  • 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 and/or our ability to release grant funds. If you are recommended for an award which may have historic preservation or environmental concerns (NHPA/NEPA), you will be notified and asked to provide additional information. Thorough and complete information for all project activities and locations will expedite the review. The Arts Endowment cannot release an award and/or grant funds until the NHPA/NEPA review is complete.

Learn more about the questions you will need to answer for the review of a project impacted by the National Historic Preservation Act and/or the National Environmental Policy Act.

Accessibility

Federal regulations require that all National Endowment for the Arts-funded projects be accessible to people with disabilities. Funded activities must be held in a physically 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 detailed information describing how you will make your project physically and programmatically accessible to people with disabilities. See Award Administration for more information.