Grant Review Process

Ever wanted to know what happens to your application once you submit it to the NEA? Below we break down the steps in the journey that your application takes.

LIFECYCLE OF AN APPLICATION

GUIDELINES AVAILABLE

Application guidelines are made available on the Arts Endowment's website and through Grants.gov.

APPLICATION SUBMITTED

Applications that met the deadline are assigned an application number. Applicant receives acknowledgment of application receipt. Applications are forwarded to Program staff.

STAFF REVIEW

Staff reviews applications for completeness and may contact applicants if questions arise. Application materials are made available to panelists several weeks before the panel meeting.

PANEL REVIEW

Panels are made up of experts with knowledge and experience in the area under review. Each application is reviewed and rated in accordance with the published review criteria.

NATIONAL COUNCIL/CHAIRMAN REVIEW

The staff reconciles the panel recommendations with available funds and forwards them to the National Council on the Arts, where they are reviewed in open session. The Council makes recommendations on which applications to fund and which applications to reject. The Chairman makes the final decision on all grant awards.

NOTIFICATION

Applicants not recommended for funding are notified soon after the final decisions are made. If applicants are recommended for less than their requested amount, they may first be contacted for revised information. Grantees later receive an official grant award notification with information about legal and reporting requirements. Any applicant may ask for comments on their application within 30 days after official notification.

Introduction 

Applications generally receive three levels of review. First, they are reviewed by independent, national panels of artists and other arts experts. Following panel review, applications are forwarded to the National Council on the Arts, the Arts Endowment’s advisory body. The Council comprises nationally and internationally renowned artists, distinguished scholars, and arts patrons appointed by the President, and members of Congress (who serve ex officio). The Council reviews and makes recommendations on the applications. Those recommendations for funding are sent to the NEA Chairman. The Chairman reviews those applications recommended by the Council and makes the final decision on all grant awards.

Level I: Panel Review

Our application review process relies upon the assistance of panelists from around the country who are experts in their fields. Annually, we conduct more than 75 review panels, involving 400-500 panelists, in the evaluation of approximately 5,000 applications. To review the applications, we assemble different panels every year, each diverse with regard to geography, race and ethnicity, and artistic points of view.

Our staff manages the process. Staff reviews applications for completeness and eligibility and assigns them to panels. Typically approximately 50 applications are assigned to a panel of up to six panelists with knowledge and experience in the areas under review, including at least one knowledgeable layperson. Our legislation requires that all our panels be conflict free.

We provide our panelists with online access to the applications about a month in advance of the panel meeting. At this stage the panelists read the applications and review works samples, enter their preliminary comments, and assign initial ratings. All applications must be evaluated according to the review criteria listed in the application guidelines. Artistic excellence and artistic merit are the two primary criteria specified by Congress in our authorizing legislation; there are several elements under each. (Since the review criteria may vary from category to category, applicants should consult the criteria of the category to which they are applying.) Panelists later meet as a group to discuss applications in closed session. Informed by the panel discussion, they may change their initial ratings.

Level II: The National Council on the Arts

The staff reconciles the panel recommendations with available funds and forwards them to the National Council on the Arts, where they are reviewed in open session. The Council makes recommendations on which applications to fund and which applications to reject.

In addition to making recommendations on applications for grants, the Council also makes recommendations to the Chairman on agency policies and programs, such as funding guidelines and leadership initiatives.

The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965 established the NEA and provided for citizens to serve as advisors to the agency as members of the National Council on the Arts. Members are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate for six-year, staggered terms. Currently, the Council has 18 voting members and an additional six members of Congress who serve in an ex officio, non-voting capacity for two-year terms.

The Presidential appointees, by law, are selected for their widely recognized knowledge of the arts or their expertise or profound interest in the arts. They have records of distinguished service or achieved eminence in the arts and are chosen to represent equitably all geographical areas of the country. Congressional members are appointed in the following manner: two by the Speaker of the House, one by the Minority Leader of the House, two by the Majority Leader of the Senate, and one by the Minority Leader of the Senate.

Level III: The NEA Chairman

The Chairman reviews the recommendations for grants in all funding categories and makes the final decision on all grant awards. Applicants are then notified of funding decisions.

Transparency and Confidentiality at NEA

We seek to make our review process as transparent as possible, while protecting the confidentiality of applicants, panelists, staff, and Council members. Our advisory panel meetings are announced in the Federal Register and panelists’ names are listed on our website once grants are announced. The public may not, however, attend panel meetings or Council sessions in which confidential application information is discussed. The names of applicants are kept confidential except for those who receive grants. We announce the names of grantees on our website. Sample application narratives from some grantees also may viewed on our website. Applicants not recommended for funding are notified. After notification, any applicant may ask for comments on their application. In such instances, we must be contacted no later than 30 days after the official notification.

We're always looking for individuals with experience and/or expertise in one or more of the arts to serve as panelists. If you're interested in becoming a NEA panelist, send an email to panelistforms@arts.gov for additional information.