The National Endowment for the Arts is accepting applications for $135 million in American Rescue Plan grants designed to help arts and cultural organizations recover from the pandemic.
PHOENIX, AZ—There’s good news for art groups feeling the pandemic pinch.
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is accepting applications for two American Rescue Plan grant programs designed to help the arts and culture sector recover from COVID-19 impacts. Grants are one of many ways the independent federal agency, created by the United States Congress in 1965, works to increase access to and participation in the arts.
For museum professionals like Tiffany Fairall, chief curator for Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum in Arizona, NEA grants have been essential to continuing important work during the pandemic. When COVID-19 protocols temporarily closed the museum, NEA funding enabled the organization to adjust key logistics for Passage, a multi-artist collaboration anchored by New Mexico-based Indigenous artist Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lokata).
“The NEA grants help us support artists,” says Fairall, “and the artists create places where community members can come together to have conversations and solve problems.”
These new NEA grants are funded through $135 million via ARPA, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan signed into federal law on March 11, 2021.
“The arts and culture sector was thriving before the pandemic struck,” says Wendy Clark, director of museums, visual arts, and indemnity for the NEA. “COVID hit hard, and we still don’t know what will be the final impacts.”
In 2019, Clark says, the sector added 4.3 percent to the gross domestic product. But now, 15 percent of museums may be at risk of permanent closure.
Employment numbers for artists have also dropped dramatically. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 124,000 people were employed by performing arts companies in March 2020, the month pandemic lockdowns began. This March, that number was just 69,200.
Hence, this new round of funding with a focus on pandemic recovery.
Forty percent of the $135 million is allocated for sixty-two state, jurisdictional, and regional arts organizations, resulting in additional funding for grants to arts and cultural organizations in the communities they serve. The remaining 60 percent will go directly to arts and cultural organizations.
Clark notes that some NEA grant programs are only open to prior recipients of NEA funding. But that’s not the case here, which means the grants are available to a much wider range of the arts and culture sector.
“We want to preserve jobs and support the small and large institutions that are so important to helping people regain that sense of community,” Clark explains. “We want to help keep the doors open and assist the field in recovery just as their recovery is helping us all.”
Arts and cultural organizations can apply for NEA rescue plan grants through August 12, 2021. Applicants can request a grant for $50,000, $100,000, or $150,000. The NEA, which expects to award approximately 800 of these grants, is encouraging applicants to request an amount “that reflects their overall organization size and internal capacity.”
To be eligible, an applicant must be a U.S. nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, a unit of state or local government, or a federally recognized tribal community or tribe. That includes arts organizations, local arts agencies, arts service organizations, local education agencies (such as school districts), and other groups that can help to advance NEA goals.
Recipients can use the funds for staff salaries, artist stipends, and services provided by contractual personnel, plus facilities costs, health and safety supplies, and marketing and promotional expenses.
The NEA rescue plan grant for local art agencies is designed to fund subgrants. Grant money goes to organizations such as Arizona Commission on the Arts, Colorado Creative Industries, New Mexico Arts, and Texas Commission on the Arts. Then the agencies use the funding for grants to local groups, which can put the money towards items such as salaries, rent, health and safety supplies, and marketing and promotion. In some cases, the awards can go towards artist fees and stipends.
When local art agencies apply for a $150,000, $250,000, or $500,000 grant, they can also request that up to $50,000 of those funds go towards their own operating costs for administering the subgrants. The NEA anticipates awarding approximately eighty grants in this category, and the deadline to apply is July 22, 2021.
Complete eligibility requirements are available on the NEA website, where you’ll also find tools for navigating the application process, additional grant opportunities, and information on how to volunteer to serve on a grant panel.
Take note: organizations need to register with grants.gov and the System for Award Management before submitting a rescue plan grant application, and NEA says those registrations can take several weeks. That means waiting until the last minute is a bad idea.
Although the application process can be time-consuming, securing NEA funding can reap significant rewards.
Last year, for example, Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum was scheduled to open its fall season with several exhibitions highlighting the burgeoning Visionary Art movement. Instead, the exhibitions will open this fall, supported in part by a $25,000 NEA grant that will help with artist stipends for Alex Grey and Allyson Grey, New York-based artists whose works have been featured at Burning Man and Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart in Las Vegas.
“The NEA has been an incredible support,” says Fairall. “We’ve been able to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise because of NEA grants.”