OUR TOWN: Grant Program Description

Art works to improve the lives of America’s citizens in many ways. Communities across our nation are leveraging the arts and engaging design to make their communities more livable with enhanced quality of life, increased creative activity, a distinct sense of place, and vibrant local economies that together capitalize on their existing assets. The NEA defines these efforts as the process of 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."

Ann Markusen, Markusen Economic Research Services 
Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, Metris Arts Consulting 
From Creative Placemaking

Through Our Town, subject to the availability of funding, the National Endowment for the Arts will provide a limited number of grants, ranging from $25,000 to $200,000, for creative placemaking projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core. Our Town will invest in creative and innovative projects in which communities, together with their arts and design organizations and artists, seek to:

  • Improve their quality of life.
  • Encourage greater creative activity.
  • Foster stronger community identity and a sense of place.
  • Revitalize economic development.

Through Our Town projects, the NEA intends to achieve the following outcome: Livability: American communities are strengthened through the arts. See "Intended NEA Outcome" for more details.

Partnerships

A key to the success of creative placemaking is involving the arts in partnership with committed governmental and private sector leadership. All Our Town applications must reflect a partnership that will provide leadership for the project. These partnerships must involve 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. The highest ranking official of the local government is required to submit a formal endorsement letter designating the project as the only one being submitted for the local government. See "How to Prepare and Submit an Application/Attachment 10" for more information.

Additional partners are encouraged and may include an appropriate variety of entities such as state level government agencies, foundations, arts organizations and artists, nonprofit organizations, design professionals and design centers, educational institutions, real estate developers, business leaders, and community organizations, as well as public and governmental entities.

You may find it helpful to contact your local arts agency as you begin the process within your community.

Projects

The Arts Endowment plans to support a variety of diverse projects across the country in urban and rural communities of all sizes. Please review the list of grants on our website to see the types of projects that have been funded recently through Our Town and the related Mayors' Institute on City Design 25th Anniversary Initiative.

Our Town projects should represent the distinct character and quality of their communities and must reflect the following principles:

  • A systemic approach to civic development and a persuasive vision for enhanced community livability.
  • Clearly defined civic development goals and objectives that recognize and enhance the role that the arts and design play at the center of community life.
  • An action plan aligned with the project vision and civic development goals.
  • A funding plan that is appropriate, feasible, indicates strong and wide community support, and includes a well-conceived strategy for maintaining the work of the project.
  • Artistic excellence of the design and/or arts organizations, designers, or artists involved with the project.

Projects may include arts engagement, cultural planning, and design activities such as:

Arts Engagement

Arts engagement projects support artistically excellent artistic production or practice as the focus of creative placemaking work.

  • Innovative programming that fosters interaction among community members, arts organizations, and artists, or activates existing cultural and community assets.
  • Festivals and performances in spaces not normally used for such purposes.
  • Public art that improves public spaces and strategically reflects or shapes the physical and social character of a community.

Cultural Planning

Cultural planning projects support the development of artistically excellent local support systems necessary for creative placemaking to succeed.

  • Creative asset mapping.
  • Cultural district planning.
  • The development of master plans or community-wide strategies for public art.
  • Support for creative entrepreneurship.
  • Creative industry cluster/hub development.

Design

Design projects that demonstrate artistic excellence while supporting the development of environments where creative placemaking takes place, or where the identity of place is created or reinforced.

  • Design of rehearsal, studio, or live/work spaces for artists.
  • Design of cultural spaces – new or adaptive reuse.
  • Design of public spaces, e.g., parks, plazas, landscapes, neighborhoods, districts, infrastructure, bridges, and artist-produced elements of streetscapes. Community engagement activities including design charrettes, design competitions, and community design workshops.

When eligible, previous Our Town grantees and their communities may apply to Our Town for a distinctly different project, or a distinctly different phase of the project, from that which was funded.

We understand that creative placemaking projects are often multi-year, large-scale initiatives. Please specify in your application which phase or phases of your project are included in your request for NEA funding. All phases of a project -- except for those for facilities noted below -- are eligible for support. The NEA reserves the right to limit its support of a project to a particular phase(s) or cost(s). All costs included in your Project Budget must be expended during your period of support.

If relevant to your project, you will be required to provide information in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and/or the National Historic Preservation Act. See here for more information.

We Do Not Fund

Funding under Our Town is not available for:

  • Projects that do not involve the required partnership that will provide leadership for the project. 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.
  • Activities that are not tied directly to long-term civic development goals.
  • Projects where the arts, design, or cultural activity are not core to the project’s plan.
  • Capacity building initiatives for artists that are not integral to a broader civic development strategy.
  • Construction, purchase, or renovation of facilities. (Design fees, community planning, and installation of public art are eligible; however, no Arts Endowment or matching funds may be directed to the costs of physical construction or renovation or toward the purchase costs of facilities or land.)
  • Market demand surveys for artist space projects.
  • Costs (and their match) to bring a project into compliance with federal grant requirements. This includes environmental or historical assessments or reviews and the hiring of individuals to write assessments or reviews or to otherwise comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and/or the National Historic Preservation Act.
  • Subgranting or regranting, except for local arts agencies that are designated to operate on behalf of their local governments or are operating units of city or county government. (See more information on subgranting.) Subgranting activity by designated local arts agencies must be directly relevant to the Our Town project activities.
  • Financial awards to winners of competitions.
  • Fund raising or financing activities.
  • General operating support.
  • Seasonal support.
  • Costs for the creation of new organizations.
  • Direct grants to individuals. (The Arts Endowment encourages applicant organizations to involve individual artists in all possible ways.)
  • Individual elementary or secondary schools -- charter, private, or public -- directly. Schools may participate as additional partners in projects for which another eligible organization applies. Local education agencies (school districts) and community colleges can apply on behalf of a local government. If a single school also is the local education agency, as is the case with some charter schools, the school may apply with documentation that supports its status as the local education agency applying on behalf of the local government.
  • State and regional education agencies and institutions.
  • Commercial (for-profit) enterprises or activities.
  • Cash reserves and endowments.
  • Awards to individuals or organizations to honor or recognize achievement.
  • Generally, professional training in degree-granting institutions.
  • Work toward academic degrees and the pursuit of academic careers.
  • Projects that replace arts instruction provided by a classroom teacher or an arts specialist.
  • Literary publishing that does not focus on contemporary literature and/or writers.
  • Generally, publication of books or exhibition of works by the applicant organization's staff, board members, faculty, or trustees.
  • Exhibitions of, and other projects that primarily involve, single, individually-owned, private collections.
  • Projects for which the selection of artists or art works is based upon criteria other than artistic excellence and merit. Examples include festivals, exhibitions, or publications for which no jury/editorial judgment has been applied.
  • Expenditures that are related to compensation to foreign nationals and artists traveling to or from foreign countries when those expenditures are not in compliance with regulations issued by the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Asset Control. For further information, see http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/ or contact the Arts Endowment's Grants & Contracts Office at grants@arts.gov.
  • Project costs that are supported by any other federal funds or their match.

Intended Outcome

Through Our Town projects, the Arts Endowment intends to achieve the following outcome from our strategic plan: Livability: American communities are strengthened through the arts.

The anticipated long-term results for Livability projects are 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 Livability 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 LINK. 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.

We may publish grantees' reports and products on our website. Please note that all federal grantmaking agencies retain a royalty-free right to use all or a portion of grantees’ reports and products for federal purposes.

Deadline Date

You are required to submit your application electronically through Grants.gov, the federal government’s online application system. The Grants.gov system must receive your validated and accepted application no later than 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time, on January 13, 2014. We strongly recommend that you submit at least 10 days in advance of the deadline to give yourself ample time to resolve any problems that you might encounter. We will not accept late applications.

The Grants.gov Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.