Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Getting an NEA Our Town grant is hard. Some tips to make it easier.

By Andrea Orlando, MSJ
Communications Manager, National Consortium for Creative Placemaking

Proposals for the NEA Our Town grant program ( are due August 9.  Only 25% of applicants get this grant.  

Here are some tips from an NEA senior staff member and some ideas on how The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking can help you.  NCCP's work has been supported five times through the Our Town program.

A successful grant proposal is as much about recognizing the unique assets of a place as it is about creating something entirely new, said the NEA's Katherine Bray-Simons at the Northeast Corridor Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit in May. 

Katherine Bray-Simons of the NEA conducting a workshop at the CPL Summit
Photo by Justin Jajalla

The NEA is looking to fund projects that leverage “undervalued” or “under-recognized” or “under-tapped” assets, Bray-Simons told the group. Those assets could include a unique local history, architecture or new civic energy around a special opportunity.  
The NEA distributes the funds to rural and remote areas as well as urban centers. Notable examples of Our Town grant recipient locations are Wilson, North Carolina, which received funding to restore whirligigs, vernacular art created by WWII veteran Vollis Simpson. The whirligigs are kinetic sculptures made from mechanical spare parts. A public-private partnership employed conservators to restore the aging structures and installed them in a local park. Bray-Simons said the most “poetic” aspect of the project was that locals who had once worked in a now-closed machine shop received training in conservation and are now conservators themselves. 
Vollis Simpson whirligig

Our town grants can range from $25,000 to $200,000. Bray-Simons encouraged the group to look for cross-sector partnerships and be “imaginative” about who those partners may be. The program requires at least one of the partners to be a 501 c3 nonprofit. The program also requires a letter of endorsement from a local official, either from the municipality or the county where the proposed project is located, or from a federally recognized Native American tribe. 

“We’re looking for a player who sets policy and has decision-making power in identifying and carrying out that policy,” Bray-Simons said. 

Clarify the community development goals of the project and justify its timing. “Why is now an important time for intervention?” Bray-Simons asked. 

NCCP has been in several projects supported by Our Town grants. They are creative placemaking plans for Long Beach Island and Perth Amboy (both in New Jersey), the Livable Neighborhoods Program of the Municipal Art Society of New York City, the New Jersey Creative Placemakers program, and the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summits.

Working on the Perth Amboy Plan
Photo by Noelle Zaleski
     While we can't promise to get you a grant (and we will NOT lobby the NEA on anyone's behalf), we can help you think about better ways to connect arts and culture to community and economic development issues.  If you put NCCP in your proposal ($5,000 minimum from the grant), we'll help you free.  If not, we'll ask you for a modest amount to cover our costs. For more information, please contact NCCP Executive Director Leonardo Vazquez by email or at 973-763-6352, x1

The NEA website now includes a resource page for people interested in learning more about the program. 



  1. If you put NCCP in your proposal ($5,000 minimum from the grant), we'll help you free. If not, we'll ask you for a modest amount to cover our costs.

    Andrea, please explain how NCCP assistance is “free” if included in grant expenses. Thanks!

  2. Our help is free if you put us in your proposal. There is a charge if not. Sorry that we had to do this, but to many people were asking for my advice for free and not showing professional courtesy.