Museums for America is the Institute’s largest grant program for museums, supporting projects and ongoing activities that build museums’ capacity to serve their communities.
Museums for America grants strengthen a museum’s ability to serve the public more effectively by supporting high-priority activities that advance the institution’s mission and strategic goals. Museums for America grants are designed to be flexible: funds can be used for a wide variety of projects, including ongoing museum activities, research and other behindthe-scenes activities, planning, new programs, purchase of equipment or services, and activities that will support the efforts of museums to upgrade and integrate new technologies. IMLS also welcomes proposals that promote the skills necessary to develop 21st century communities, citizens, and workers, and that encourage broad community access and participation.
Grants are awarded in the following categories:
- Engaging Communities (Education, Exhibitions, Interpretation, and Inclusive Participation): Support projects that represent a broad range of educational activities through which museums share collections, content, and knowledge to support learning.
- Building Institutional Capacity (Management, Policy, and Training): Support projects that serve to improve the infrastructure of museums to better serve their communities.
- Collections Stewardship: Support projects that museums undertake to maintain and improve the management of museum collections in order to fulfill a museum’s public service mission.
Museums that fulfill the eligibility criteria for museums may apply.
All types of museums, large and small, are eligible for funding. Eligible museums include aquariums, arboretums and botanical gardens, art museums, youth museums, general museums, historic houses and sites, history museums, nature centers, natural history and anthropology museums, planetariums, science and technology centers, specialized museums, and zoological parks. Federally operated and for-profit museums may not apply for IMLS funds.
An eligible applicant must be: either a unit of state or local government or a private not-for-profit organization that has tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code; located in one of the fifty states of the United States of America, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated states of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau; and a museum that, using a professional staff, (1) is organized on a permanent basis for essentially educational or aesthetic purposes; (2) owns or uses tangible objects, either animate or inanimate; (3) cares for these objects; and (4) exhibits these objects to the general public on a regular basis through facilities which it owns or operates. An organization uses a professional staff if it employs at least one professional staff member, or the fulltime equivalent, whether paid or unpaid primarily engaged in the acquisition, care, or exhibition to the public of objects owned or used by the institution. An organization “exhibits objects to the general public” if such exhibition is a primary purpose of the institution. Further, an organization which exhibits objects to the general public for at least 120 days a year shall be deemed to exhibit objects to the general public on a regular basis. An organization which exhibits objects by appointment may meet the requirement to exhibit objects to the general public on a regular basis, if it can establish, in light of the facts under all the relevant circumstances, that this method of exhibition does not unreasonably restrict the accessibility of the institution’s exhibits to the general public.
Please note that an organization which does not have as a primary purpose the exhibition of objects to the general public. but which can demonstrate that it exhibits objects to the general public on a regular basis as a significant, separate, distinct, and continuing portion of its activities, and that it otherwise meets the museum eligibility requirements, may be determined to be eligible as a museum under these guidelines. A museum located within a parent organization that is a state or local government or multipurpose non-profit entity, such as a municipality, university, historical society, foundation, or a cultural center, may apply on its own behalf, if the museum: (1) is able to independently fulfill all the eligibility requirements listed above; (2) functions as a discrete unit within the parent organization; (3) has its own fully segregated and itemized operating budget; and (4) has the authority to make the application on its own. When any of the last three conditions cannot be met, a museum may apply through its parent organization. Prospective applicants that cannot fulfill all of these requirements should contact IMLS to discuss their eligibility before applying. IMLS may require additional supporting documentation from the applicant to determine the museum’s autonomy. Each eligible applicant within a single parent organization should clearly delineate its own programs and operations in the application narrative. A parent organization that controls multiple museums that are not autonomous but which are otherwise eligible may submit only one application per grant program; the application may be submitted by the parent organization on behalf of one or more of the eligible museums.