CHALLENGE AMERICA: Program Description

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is 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. territories. Through our grantmaking to thousands of organizations each year, we support the creative capacity of communities to provide everyone in the United States with diverse opportunities for arts participation. Since 2001, the Challenge America program has extended the NEA’s reach by promoting equal access to the arts in communities across the country. We are committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and fostering mutual respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all individuals and groups.

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 NEA 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 NEA funding opportunities.

This category is an entry point for organizations seeking NEA 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 2020, 2021, or 2022) 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 NEA applicants recommended for FY 2020, FY 2021, or FY 2022 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 2020, FY 2021, or FY 2022 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.

Eligible organizations that received American Rescue Plan (ARP) or CARES Act funding are eligible apply to this program as long as they were not recommended for FY 2020, FY 2021, or FY 2022 funding in Grants for Arts Projects (formerly known as Art Works), Research Grants in the Arts, or Our Town.

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


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.

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

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

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.

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: 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.

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


Federal regulations require that all NEA-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.

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 that garner 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.
  • An outdoor arts festival.
  • 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.