CHALLENGE AMERICA: Program Description

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is proud to support the nation’s arts sector with grant opportunities so that together we can help everyone live more artful lives.

“Artful lives” is an inclusive concept encompassing everything from the creation, presentation, and consumption of art, to active arts engagement by all people through making, teaching, and learning in our everyday lives. The arts contribute to our individual well-being, the well-being of our communities, and to our local economies. The arts are crucial to helping us make sense of our circumstances from different perspectives.

Arts and cultural activities are supported by a vast ecosystem that includes artists, arts workers, audiences, learners, communities, foundations, and organizations at the local, state, regional, and national level. As a federal agency, the NEA holds a unique place within this ecosystem: we are the only arts funder in the United States—public or private—that provides access to the arts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. jurisdictions.

Challenge America

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

  • Some groups/communities and some geographic areas with rich and dynamic artistic and 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 applicants to the NEA may benefit from enhanced technical assistance resources.

Challenge America seeks to address these potential barriers for organizations seeking funding.

First-time applicants to the NEA, as well as previous NEA applicants who have not been recommended for funding in any of the three most recent Fiscal Years (FYs 2022, 2023, or 2024) in any of the following grant programs, are eligible to apply:

  • Grants for Arts Projects,
  • Research Grants in the Arts, or
  • Our Town.

Previous NEA applicants recommended for funding in Grants for Arts Projects, Research Grants in the Arts, or Our Town, FY 2022, FY 2023, or FY 2024 are not eligible to apply.

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 2022, FY 2023, or FY 2024 funding in Grants for Arts Projects, Research Grants in the Arts, or Our Town.

See Applicant Eligibility for more information.


Challenge America supports arts projects in many artistic disciplines including Artist Communities, Arts Education, Dance, Design, Folk & Traditional Arts, Literary Arts, Local Arts Agencies, Media Arts, Museums, Music, Musical Theater, Opera, Presenting & Multidisciplinary Arts, Theater, and Visual Arts.

Projects must extend the reach of the arts to underserved groups/communities. Possible projects include, but are not limited to: arts programming, including the 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 must not cover all of your programming for a season. We do not offer funding for general operating support or to support an entire season of programming.

Carefully read the application Review Criteria and address those criteria in the application.

What do we mean by underserved groups/communities?

The term “underserved,” as defined by our legislation and agency policy, refers to those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited relative to: geography, ethnicityeconomics, 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 applicable, engagement with the following constituencies is encouraged (in accordance with White House Executive Orders), including but not limited to:

Non-discrimination Policies

The NEA is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and fostering mutual respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all individuals and groups.

Projects may focus on reaching a particular group or demographic (such as gender, disability, economic status, race, color, or national origin, including limited English proficiency); however, they may not be exclusionary under Federal civil rights laws and policies prohibiting discrimination. This extends to hiring practices, artist selection processes, and audience engagement. Your application should make it clear that project activities are not exclusionary. Please review the Assurance of Compliance, as well as NEA Civil Rights guidance on our website, including this archived webinar: Things to Know Before You Apply: Federal Civil Rights and Your Grants Application.

To view examples of the types of projects we have previously funded, visit our Recent Grants Search tool.

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.

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. We are available to answer your questions.

Contact: or 202-682-5700.

Be sure to check out the Applicant Resources section in the left sidebar. We conduct regular online Office Hours to answer questions. Dates and times are located in this section.

Applying for a federal grant can be time consuming. We estimate that after registration, which can take several weeks to finalize, the process to draft and submit an application will take approximately 26 hours. Please see the How to Apply section of these guidelines for detailed information on application requirements. We also strongly recommend that applicants review the Award Administration section for details on post-award reporting, compliance, and legal requirements.


Federal regulations require that all NEA-funded projects be accessible to people with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities may be audiences, visitors, artists, performers, teaching artists, students, staff, and volunteers. Funded activities should be held in a physically accessible venue, and program access and effective communication should 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.

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

Recommended projects may be subject to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and/or the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance review.

Some of the common project types requiring a review are:

  • A project involving or occurring near or at a historic place, such as a property that is 50 years old or older, or a place listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The commissioning and installation of temporary or permanent outdoor installations, including sculptures, statuary, banners, mixed media, painting or murals, as well as small structures such as benches, bus shelters, and produce stands.
  • Outdoor arts activities, including outdoor arts festivals.
  • Permanent wayfinding signs and other similar artistic directional installations.
  • Maintenance or rehabilitation of landscapes and gardens.
  • In-kind replacement or repairs at a facility that is older than 50 years of age.
  • Design services and planning for projects that may affect historic properties.

See more information about NHPA/NEPA review under Award Administration.