CHALLENGE AMERICA: Applicant Tips | National Endowment for the Arts


The purpose of this document goes beyond just “technical assistance” and should serve as a helpful bridge from the Grant Application Form (GAF) to the Review Criteria – with tips related to common questions, issues, and reviewer feedback. We remain committed to assist you throughout the process and wish you the best of success. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at: [email protected] / 202-682-5700

Eligibility Check

Using the Recent Grants Tool:

Referencing Past Offer Notifications

Recommendations for funding in FY19 or FY20 are indicated by an Offer Letter dated November 8, 2018, or later. Organizations that applied to the FY21 Grants for Arts Projects July deadline (July 8, 2020) or FY21 Our Town deadline (August 6, 2020) should contact us for assistance.

If you have additional eligibility questions, contact us at: [email protected] or 202-682-5700.

Mission and Background/History of Your Organization

The information included in this application field provides helpful context for reviewers to understand your work and project. Arts Endowment reviewers are recruited from all across the country, from diverse geographic areas. They may not be familiar with your region, your community, or your organization. Your response here will help to familiarize reviewers with your organization and situate your project within the framework of your organization and community. Details about your mission and organizational history help reviewers consider aspects of your project’s artistic excellence and artistic merit, such as its relevance and appropriateness to your constituency.

Arts Programmatic History

The information included in the Arts Programmatic History section of the Grant Application Form will be used to determine both eligibility and competitiveness.

First, your responses must demonstrate eligibility to apply for Arts Endowment funding by showing a three-year history of arts programming prior to the application deadline. Read the guidelines carefully to confirm that you are including recent, pertinent years of arts programming.

Second, your representative examples can help reviewers discern artistic excellence and artistic merit. Include just one representative example for each year. Select prior activity that is most relevant to your proposal, such as previous work in the same art form, collaborations with the same partners, and/or efforts toward similar goals. Your programming examples might demonstrate artistic excellence, your organization’s experience and relationship with your intended audience, or both.

Intended Underserved Audience/Participants/Community

Your project must engage at least one of the underserved categories listed in the guidelines (Geography, Ethnicity, Economics, and Disability). In some cases, a project might incorporate multiple underserved categories. Age alone (e.g., youth, seniors) does not qualify a group as underserved. This section of the Grant Application Form will help reviewers better understand the specific population that your project is intended to reach and how that constituency has been historically underserved. Whenever possible, include relevant details and quantifiable demographic statistics that describe your intended audience.

Project Description

This section of the Grant Application Form is the core of your narrative. Be sure to thoroughly describe the logistics of your project here. It might be helpful to revisit the Challenge America Program Description as you decide how best to describe your project. As a reminder, Challenge America offers support to primarily 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 new applicants to the Arts Endowment may benefit from enhanced technical assistance resources.

We also recommend revisiting the Challenge America Review Criteria while working on your application. As reviewers read your application, they will be considering and scoring in relation to the program review criteria of artistic excellence and artistic merit. Keep in mind the published definitions for these two criteria throughout your application.

Because Challenge America focuses on underserved populations, reviewers will be looking to understand who the project’s intended audience is, and how your project is designed to specifically reach and engage that intended audience.

Goals and Evaluation

Your plan for evaluation helps reviewers determine the project’s artistic merit. Explain how you will track accomplishments and challenges while making progress toward your goals. For example, if your goals include increasing engagement, will you record the number of participants (tickets, social media engagement, etc.)? Will you assess community response to the project (press coverage, artist/audience feedback, etc.)? How have previous experiences or data informed the current project?

Organizational Partners & Key Individuals

Artist bios provide useful information for reviewers as they consider the project’s artistic excellence. If you have not yet selected an artist, that is OK. You can include bios for artists you are considering for the project, or artists you have worked with previously. You may also describe your criteria for selecting artists. Make the artist’s prospective status very clear for reviewers in your description.Also consider and explain the role of your key individuals and organizational partners in helping you to reach and engage the intended audience/participants you identified. This additional information can show the project’s potential to reach underserved populations and increase the availability of arts or cultural resources.

Work Samples

Work samples are an essential part of application review, especially as they relate to the artistic excellence review criterion. For the Challenge America program, the definition of artistic excellence includes two components: “quality” and “relevance.” Work samples may include items such as videos, audio files, images, documents, or websites.

We’ve listed some common work sample issues below (as well as suggested remedies!). This list is not comprehensive, but offers a brief sampling, based on typical feedback from reviewers.

  • Issue: The work sample is hard to hear or see. Suggestion: Select work samples of the highest technical quality available to you. In some cases, one excellent quality work sample might offer a better representation of your proposed project than several lower quality samples.

  • Issue: Still photos were submitted for performing artists. Suggestion: Select work samples in a format relevant to the artistic discipline of your project. For example, still photos work well for visual artists; for performing arts-based projects, panelists will expect to see audio and/or video samples of proposed artists whenever possible.

  • Issue: Reviewers are not able to access links that you provided as work samples. Suggestion: Be sure you provide links that are maintained online throughout the year. We will not reach out to you for updated links once review has started.

  • Issue: Work samples don’t include the work of any of the project’s proposed artists. Suggestion: We understand that a variety of reasons could prevent you from submitting work samples for specific artists. Since work samples are so important for competitiveness, we suggest:

    • If you haven’t yet selected an artist for your project, consider including work samples for “proposed” or “short list” artists. Or, include artists that your organization has worked with in the past as an example of the caliber of excellence that you intend for your project. Clearly state the relevance of the selected work sample (i.e. example of past organizational work, current proposed artist, etc.)

    • If you are proposing a brand-new project, consider including samples from proposed artists that are representative of their body of past work. These can be included as separate files, or as URL links that take reviewers directly to samples on an artist website. Include artist credits in the descriptions, as appropriate.

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