Humanities Center-sponsored presentation focused on applying for NEA and NEH funding

National Endowment for the Arts logo

This past August, Miami University’s Humanities Center sponsored a presentation by Jon Parrish Peede, publisher of the Virginia Quarterly Review, on applying for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Peede is a former director of literature grants, and two other programs for the NEA. Below, we share some of the highlights from his talk.


Peede began with an overview of the two agencies and what distinguishes them. The NEA, he said, is focused on the creation and distribution of art itself, while the NEH tends to focus more on the scholarship and preservation of arts and humanities.

Peede offered several grantsmanship tips of general benefit to those applying for most programs, not just the NEA and NEH. These include:

  • Reviewing eligibility criteria carefully and applying only if the applicant meets them.
  • Reviewing project guidelines carefully and complying with them in the application.
  • Contacting a program officer to discuss project ideas and agency fit before submitting an application.
  • Understanding key terms used by the agency and stressing them in the application.
  • Avoiding unnecessary jargon in the project narrative.
  • Being specific and realistic in the project narrative.
  • Making sure the narrative and budget are tightly articulated, so that every activity mentioned in the narrative corresponds to a line in the budget and every line in the budget corresponds to a specific activity mentioned in the narrative.
  • Requesting only what you need in the budget, resisting any urge to “pad” it.
  • Requesting panel review comments from any previous submissions to an agency and reviewing them before applying again.

In addition, Peede offered tips specific to NEA and NEH applications:

NEA
  • Propose projects that go narrow but deep or shallow but wide (and especially avoid narrow and shallow). Peede said the NEA prefers to fund projects that are either nationally distinctive or locally valuable.
  • Important terms to stress in the narrative include innovation, community engagement, underserved populations, social media outreach, inter-generational activities, lasting impact, evaluation metrics, multi-genre, multi-media, transmedia, transformative. Peede also said it’s important to use these terms properly. For example, the NEA does not consider mailing out postcards or putting an event on a campus calendar to be “community engagement.”
  • It is important to demonstrate — not just voice — a commitment to community and diversity/inclusion.
  • Make sure the most compelling project activities align with the grant period.
  • Since agency funding is unlikely to cover all actual expenses, ask for support for the most engaging project components. For example, Peede says, include artist fees in your budget, but not photocopying expenses.
  • If support is being requested for an event, remember to include marketing for that event in the budget.
  • Work samples submitted with an application should be consumable within 30-90 seconds.
  • If applying for a literature fellowship, send your best work, regardless of genre/style. Peede said well-roundedness in genre/style is not privileged in review of these applications.
  • Projects supported by translation fellowships must be literary.
  • It’s important to recognize that the NEA experiences ideological cycles. That may mean specific work is a better fit during certain time periods or under certain administrators.
NEH
  • Because the default is to assume that scholars of certain works should be fluent in the languages those works were originally written in, translation projects must demonstrate a need for an English language version.
  • Having a book contract in hand at the time of application demonstrates the applicant’s capacity to execute the grant, but the specific press holding the contract is not important, unless it is highly regarded in the subject area.
  • Fellowship narratives should follow this outline:
    • The Research and Contribution section should describe the intellectual significance of the project, including the value to scholars, general audiences, or both.
    • The Methods and Work Plan section should describe methods and clarify the part or stage of the project being supported by the fellowship.
    • The Competencies, Skills, and Access section should explain the applicant’s competence in the area the project focuses on.
    • The Final Product and Dissemination section should describe the intended audience and the intended results.

Finally, of particular interest to Miami faculty, Peede said there is good alignment between liberal arts institutions like Miami and the NEA and NEH. Peede described these agencies as “egalitarian,” and noted that while Miami’s institutional environment might be perceived as a disadvantage in applications to other Federal agencies — like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF) — that’s not the case with the NEA and NEH.


Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of Bachelor Hall by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.

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