Funding Available for Museums for America Grant Program

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is accepting applications for the FY 2021 Museums for America (MFA) grant program. Funding levels for this program range from $5,000 to $250,000 with a total funding availability of $19.9 million. A 1:1 cost-sharing commitment is required for this program.

What is the Museums for America grant program? The goal of the MFA grant program is to support projects that strengthen the ability of an individual museum to serve its public.

Who may apply for funding under this program? To be eligible for the MFA program, an organization must meet all three of the following criteria:

1. The organization must be a unit of State, local, or tribal government or be a private, nonprofit organization that has tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code;

2. The organization must be located in one of the 50 States of the United States of America, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau; and

3. The organization must qualify as one of the following:

a. A museum that, using a professional staff, is organized on a permanent basis for essentially educational, cultural heritage, or aesthetic purposes; owns or uses tangible objects, either animate or inanimate; cares for these objects; and exhibits these objects to the general public on a regular basis through facilities that it owns or operates.

  • What does it mean to “exhibit the objects to the general public”? An institution exhibits objects to the general public if such exhibition is a primary purpose of the institution. An institution that exhibits objects to the general public for at least 120 days a year is deemed to exhibit objects to the general public on a regular basis. An institution which does not have the exhibition of objects as a primary purpose and/or does not exhibit objects to the public for at least 120 days a year may be determined to be eligible as a museum under certain circumstances. For more information, please see 2 C.F.R. § 3187.3.
  • What does it mean to be “using a professional staff”? An institution uses a professional staff if it employs at least one staff member, or the full-time equivalent, whether paid or unpaid, primarily engaged in the acquisition, care, or exhibition to the public of objects owned or used by the institution.
  • What types of institutions are included in the term “museum”? If they otherwise meet these requirements, “museums” include, but are not limited to, aquariums, arboretums, art museums, botanical gardens, children’s/youth museums, general museums (those having two or more significant disciplines), historic houses/sites, history museums, natural history/anthropology museums, nature centers, planetariums, science/technology centers, specialized museums (limited to a single distinct subject), and zoological parks.

b. A public or private nonprofit agency that is responsible for the operation of a museum that meets the eligibility criteria in 1, 2, and 3(a), applying on behalf of the museum.

What are indicators of successful projects? Successful MFA projects will have the following characteristics:

  • Institutional Impact: The project addresses a key goal identified in the institution’s strategic plan.
  • In-depth Knowledge: The project design reflects a thorough understanding of current practice and knowledge about the subject matter.
  • Project-based Design: The work plan consists of a set of logical, interrelated activities tied directly to addressing the key need or challenge identified in the application.
  • Demonstrable Results: The project generates measurable results that tie directly to the need or challenge it was designed to address.

What are the MFA project categories? There are three project categories within the MFA program. Eligible MFA projects must align with one of them.

1. Lifelong Learning: Successful projects will provide high-quality, inclusive educational opportunities that address particular audience needs and utilize current research as well as best practices. Projects may include, but are not limited to, the following activities:

  • Developing museum resources that foster various types of literacies;
  • Creating and delivering interpretive public programs;
  • Developing, designing, and fabricating exhibitions (non-construction);
  • Developing, designing, and delivering digital learning resources;
  • Providing programs designed for audiences of various backgrounds, circumstances, and abilities;
  • Providing professional development/training for formal and informal educators;
  • Creating partnerships with schools and developing museum resources and programs in support of K-12 school curricula;
  • Creating programs and developing partnerships for out-of-school audiences; and
  • Implementing evaluations or studies to improve learning experiences.

2. Community Anchors: IMLS welcomes projects that strengthen museums’ capacities for civic engagement and that contribute to the creation of livable, sustainable communities. Projects may include, but are not limited to, the following activities:

  • Creating trusted spaces for community learning, debate, and dialogue;
  • Building new partnerships to strengthen community connections through exhibitions, programs, and events;
  • Designing programs in collaboration with specific audiences and relevant community partners to address community needs;
  • Conducting community-focused planning activities; and
  • Implementing audience-focused studies and evaluation.

3. Collections Stewardship and Access: IMLS welcomes applications for projects that support the exemplary management, documentation, conservation, long-term preservation, and access to and use of the materials entrusted to a museum’s care. Projects may include, but are not limited to, the following activities:

  • Planning for the management, curation, care, and conservation of collections;
  • Preparing to mitigate the impact of natural and man-made disasters on collections and collections information through planning and training for preparedness, response, recovery, and resilience;
  • Cataloging, inventorying, documenting, and registering collections;
  • Acquiring, implementing, and enhancing collections management systems;
  • Conducting conservation surveys (See project’s Notice of Funding Opportunity, Page 37 for more information about environmental surveys);
  • Performing conservation treatments;
  • Rehousing collections;
  • Planning and implementing environmental improvements (non-construction) for museum collections storage and exhibit areas;
  • Planning and implementing digitization activities, including purchasing equipment and software, scanning, photography, managing digital output, and implementing preservation processes for digital objects and metadata; and
  • Developing strategies for addressing barriers to accessing all museum collections and related information.

How can grant funds be spent? Some examples of generally allowable costs, both for IMLS funds and for cost share, include: personnel salaries, wages, and fringe benefits;  travel expenses for key project staff and consultants; materials, supplies, software, and equipment related directly to project activities; equipment to improve collections storage and exhibit environments; third-party costs; publication design and printing; staff and volunteer training; internships/fellowships; and indirect or overhead costs.

What are the funding levels for this program? Funding levels for this program range from $5,000 to $250,000. The average amount of funding per award experienced in previous years is $170,000. IMLS anticipates a total funding availability of $19.9 million with a total of 120 awards.

Is there a cost-sharing requirement? For the MFA program, at least 1:1 cost share from non-federal sources is required.

When will awards be announced and what is the anticipated project period? The anticipated date of notification for award decisions is August 2021 (subject to the availability of funds and IMLS discretion). The project period of performance is September 1, 2021 – August 31, 2022, August 31, 2023, or August 31, 2024. Project activities may be carried out for one to three years.

When are applications due? Applications must be submitted by November 16, 2020.

The full Notice of Funding Opportunity is available here.

For more information on this grant or how to apply with Morrison’s assistance, please contact the Morrison Grants Team by email at or call us at 530-893-4764.


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