OUR TOWN: Frequently Asked Questions for Arts Engagement, Cultural Planning, and Design Projects

Basics  | Review Process | Other NEA Grants | Budget and Matching Funds | Eligible Partners 
Local Government Entity | Statements of Support | Other


Q: What is "creative placemaking?"

We think Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus said it best in their publication, Creative Placemaking:

"In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, nonprofit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired."

For more information, please click to Creative Placemaking.

Q: Could you tell us about the future of the Our Town initiative?

A: 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.

Q: What is the total funding available through the Our Town initiative?

A: The NEA's Appropriations Request to Congress is $10 million. Pending availability of funding, grants are expected to be awarded at set levels ranging from $25,000 to $200,000.

Q: What is the success rate for applicants?

A: In 2014, 248 eligible applications were received and 66 grants were recommended, a success rate of roughly 26%. 

Q: If we received an Our Town grant last year, can we apply again this year?

A: Yes, you may apply to the Our Town category for FY 2015 for a distinctly different project, or a distinctly different phase of the project, from that which was funded.

Q: How long can my grant period be?

A: Your grant period may be up to two years in length, and may start on October 1, 2015, 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. 

Q: How do I know if my community is eligible?

A: Every community in the U.S. can apply for Our Town funding.

Q: Will projects in small towns and rural areas be competitive?

A: Yes. We are seeking a diverse range of applicants and encourage communities of all sizes to apply.


Q: How will the projects be evaluated?

A: 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.

Q. 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. See "How to Prepare and Submit an Application" for the material and work samples that are required to ensure and demonstrate artistic excellence.

Q: Who reviews and selects grantees?

A: 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.

Q: Can NEA staff help me with my application? 

A: Members of NEA Design staff are available to answer specific questions about the application materials and forms. However, the NEA does not review full proposals or provide edits to text or budgets in advance of the application deadline. Please e-mail OT@arts.gov to set up a time to speak to the staff.

Q: Can I request panel comments or feedback after my project has been reviewed?

A: 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.


Q: Is a project eligible to receive funding from both the Our Town and Art Works categories?

A: Yes. You may apply to other Arts Endowment funding opportunities, including Art Works, 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 support and costs.

Q: If a project has been recommended for a Challenge America Fast-Track grant, may the same project be submitted for additional funding to Our Town or Art Works?

A: You may apply to Our Town or Art Works 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 support and costs.


Q: Do all matching funds need to be committed in advance of the submission deadline?

A: 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.

Q: Can funds raised prior to the project be used as part of the match?

A: Yes. However, matching funds must be spent on eligible activities included as part of the proposed project, during the proposed period of time.

Q: Can matching funds be in-kind?

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

Q: Can federal funds such as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) or Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funding count toward the match?

A: No. Even though these funds may come through your state, the original source is federal. No matching funds can be from federal sources and these should not appear in your Our Town project budget as either income or expenses. 

Q: Can community infrastructure costs be considered part of the match for something like a streetscape project?

A: 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. Costs to prepare the street, including purchase of property, building appropriate access, infrastructure, etc., are not allowable as matching funds. 

Q: Are artists' fees eligible expenses?

A: 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.

Q: Is rent for space for an event an eligible expense?

A. Yes.

Q: 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.

Q: Can salaries for administration or additional fundraising be funded?

A: Salaries, contract fees, and stipends for administration and project management are allowed, but fund raising is not an eligible expense

Q: Does sharing the funding between the two required partners count as subgranting or regranting?

A: 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.


Q: Can a private foundation or corporate entity serve as a partner?

A: Partnerships must involve at least two primary partners: a nonprofit organization and a local government entity, as defined by these guidelines. 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.   

Q: Can a local government arts agency apply and fulfill the role of the cultural organization and the government agency?

A: Yes, but it would still need a nonprofit organization to serve as the other primary partner.


Q: Can a city and county apply for separate projects if the city lies within the county?

A: Yes, as long as the city that is applying separately is not included or represented in the county project, and vice versa. Each local government is limited to one application, so we encourage each community and region to coordinate internally to ensure that only one application per government is submitted. If more than one application is submitted for a government, we will ask the highest ranking official to select one application to move forward. In metropolitan communities, please note that we will not accept applications from more than one council region and we will only accept a letter from the mayor or city manager, whomever is the highest ranked official in your community.

Q: Can a county partner on more than one community?

A: A county can serve as one of the primary partners with more than one community if they are all part of the same project and application. A county cannot, however, submit multiple applications in partnership with multiple communities. Each local government is limited to one application, so we encourage each community and region to coordinate internally to ensure that only one application per government is submitted. If more than one application is submitted for a government, we will ask the highest ranking official to select one application to move forward.

Q: Can a nonprofit partner on more than one application in different communities?

A: Yes. A nonprofit can partner on more than one application in different communities.

Q: Can a tribal government entity apply?

A: Yes, federally recognized tribal governments qualify as local governments.

Q: Can a regional government entity apply as a primary partner?

A: No, regional government entities do not qualify as local governments and may not apply as a primary partner.

Q: Do public school districts or community colleges qualify as a local government entity?

A: Local education agencies (school districts) and local government-run community colleges are eligible to represent a local government entity they serve. Please 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. The mayor or city manager must.

Q. Does a state university qualify as a local government entity?

A. 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.

Q: Does a quasi-local government organization, such as a Business Improvement District (BID) or Chamber of Commerce, qualify as a local government entity?

A: No. Business improvement districts and chambers of commerce do not qualify as local government entities.

Q. Does a U.S. territory qualify as a local government entity?

A. 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.


Q: If we have a local government entity on board as a partner, do we still need a statement of support from the highest ranking official for the local government?

A: Yes. A statement of support from the highest ranking official for the local government is required to ensure that a community does not submit multiple or competing proposals. Do not assume that your project is the only one in your community; larger cities may designate one agency or contact to pre-select a project from that city. Each local government is limited to one application, so we encourage each community and region to coordinate internally to ensure that only one application per government is submitted. If more than one application is submitted for a government, we will ask the highest ranking official to select one application to move forward.

Q: How do we reach out to our highest ranking official for the local government to request a statement?

A: 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 seek the approval of your highest ranking official for the local government.

Q: Can you guide us as to what the statement of support should contain? Do you have a template that we can use?

A: We do not have a template. However, the document should be a one-page formal statement of support, on appropriate letterhead, from the highest ranking official for the local government (e.g., mayor, county executive, or tribal leader). This statement should reflect the official's familiarity with and support for the project, and must designate your project as the only one being submitted for the local government.

Many local government structures exist. Please provide in your statement 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."

Q: We are applying with the local government as lead applicant. Should we submit a statement from the highest ranking official for the local government, or a statement of support from the nonprofit organization? 

A: You are required to submit both.

Q: Is there a limit to the number of statements of support that we can submit?

A: Yes. You may submit up to 10 statements 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. Please keep statements to one page each.


Q: What are some examples of measurement tools you'd like to see?

A: You should propose measurement tools that are feasible and appropriate for your organization and project. The NEA anticipates that the long-term results for Our Town projects include measurable community benefits, such as growth in overall levels of social and civic engagement; arts- or design-focused changes in policies, laws, and/or regulations; job and/or revenue growth for the community; or changes in in-and-out migration patterns. 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 measureable during the period of a grant. You will need to provide evidence of progress toward achieving improved livability as appropriate to the project. Before applying, please review the reporting requirements for Livability. 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 NEA 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 NEA 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. Please remember that you are required to maintain project documentation for three years following submission of your final report.

Q: How do I know if I need to submit documentation of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and/or the National Historic Preservation Act?

A: If your project will never alter a building, site, landscape, or district, or you're not working on a plan or design for a building, site, landscape, or district, you probably only need to state this as your reason why your project does not have the potential to have an adverse effect on environmental or historic resources.

If you are proposing a public art project, temporary or permanent, or you are planning or designing a building, site, landscape, or historic district (even if you do  not undertake physical construction during your Our Town period), you must provide us with existing environmental or historic documentation that you have. If you don't have anything, let us know about your efforts to obtain information. We may contact you for additional documentation.

See the guidelines for examples.