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Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections

Grants to USA Nonprofits, Agencies, and IHEs for
the Preservation of Humanities Collections

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National Endowment for the Humanities - Division of Preservation and Access

Deadline Date:

12/05/17 11:59 PM ET (5:00 PM ET Recommended Submission); Receipt of Supplementary Materials by 5:00 PM ET


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Grants to USA nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and IHEs to address challenges associated with preserving collections of humanities materials for the benefit of future generations. Applicants are advised to create or verify the required registrations by November 8 and November 21.

The Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections (SCHC) program helps cultural institutions meet the complex challenge of preserving large and diverse holdings of humanities materials for future generations by supporting sustainable conservation measures that mitigate deterioration, prolong the useful life of collections, and support institutional resilience: the ability to anticipate and respond to natural and man-made disasters.

Cultural institutions, including libraries, archives, museums, and historical organizations, face an enormous challenge: to preserve humanities collections that facilitate research, strengthen teaching, and provide opportunities for life-long learning. To ensure the preservation of books and manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings and moving images, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, art, and historical objects, cultural institutions must implement measures that slow deterioration and prevent catastrophic loss from natural or man-made emergencies. They can accomplish this work most effectively through preventive conservation. Preventive conservation encompasses managing relative humidity, temperature, light, and pollutants in collection spaces; providing protective storage enclosures and systems for collections; and safeguarding collections from theft, fire, floods, and other disasters.

As museums, libraries, archives, and other collecting institutions strive to be effective stewards of humanities collections, they must find ways to implement preventive conservation measures that are sustainable. This program therefore helps cultural repositories plan and implement preservation strategies that pragmatically balance effectiveness, cost, and environmental impact. Sustainable approaches to preservation can contribute to an institution’s financial health, reduce its use of fossil fuels, and benefit its green initiatives, while ensuring that collections are well cared for and available for use in humanities programming, education, and research. Sustainable preventive conservation measures may also aim to prepare and plan for, absorb, respond to, recover from, and more successfully protect collections in the event of natural or man-made disasters.

Effective and sustainable preservation strategies must be informed by the nature of an institution and its collections. All applicants, whether at the planning or the implementation level, should have completed the process of basic preservation planning; they should also clearly state how sustainable strategies will address priorities established in existing preservation or collection management plans. Sustainable preservation strategies can take many forms, depending on collection materials, the building envelope, and the local climate. However, interdisciplinary collaboration during planning and implementation of these strategies is essential. In SCHC projects, such teams typically consist of consultants and members of the institution’s staff and can include architects, building engineers, conservation scientists, conservators, curators, archivists, and facilities managers, among others.

To identify and achieve sustainable preservation strategies, it is important to
-Define preservation requirements based on an understanding of your collections, their conditions, and the particular risks that they face, rather than relying on ideal and prescriptive targets;
-Understand the characteristics and performance of the building in which your collections are housed, its envelope and its systems, and their role in moderating interior environmental conditions;
-Consider also the impact of the local climate on establishing relative humidity and temperature set points and managing interior environmental conditions;
-Consider the potential effects of climate change on cultural property;
-Weigh initial and ongoing energy use, costs, and environmental impacts of potential preservation strategies;
-Look first for passive (that is, nonmechanical) ways to improve and manage collection environments;
-Design mechanical systems, whenever possible, only after investigating and implementing passive approaches for achieving and managing desired conditions;
-Develop solutions tailored to the capabilities of the organization and its staff; and
-Evaluate and measure the effectiveness of a project’s results through the collection of data on conditions, energy use, and costs.

Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections offers two kinds of awards: grants for Planning and for Implementation.

Planning grants:

To help an institution develop and assess sustainable preventive conservation strategies, grants will support planning projects, which may encompass such activities as site visits, risk assessments, planning sessions, monitoring, testing, modeling, project-specific research, and preliminary designs for implementation projects. Planning grants must be informed by an existing preservation or collection management plan and must focus on exploring sustainable preventive conservation or resiliency strategies. They also must involve an interdisciplinary team appropriate to the goals of the project. The team may consist of consultants and members of the institution’s staff and might include architects, building engineers, conservation scientists, conservators, curators, and facilities managers, among others. A preservation/conservation professional who works with collections must be included on the planning team. All members of the team must be identified in the application, and they should all work collaboratively throughout the planning process.

Planning grants might be used to:
-Reevaluate environmental parameters for collections and establish realistic and achievable targets;
-Study the performance characteristics of buildings and building envelopes to understand how they might be used to moderate collection environments;
-Examine passive (non mechanical) and low-energy alternatives to conventional energy sources and energy-intensive mechanized systems for managing environmental conditions;
-Analyze and optimize existing climate control systems to enable improved operation, effectiveness, and energy efficiency;
-Explore the potential of actively managed mechanical systems to achieve desired conditions along with energy and cost savings;
-Conduct a risk assessment to improve institutional resilience in the face of natural and man-made disasters;
-Examine options and develop strategies for lighting collection spaces in ways that protect collections while achieving improved energy efficiency; or
-Evaluate the effectiveness of preventive conservation strategies previously implemented, including energy-efficient upgrades to existing systems and performance upgrades to buildings and building envelopes.

Planning grants may also be used to perform various kinds of testing, modeling, or project- specific research to help applicants better understand conditions and formulate sustainable preservation strategies.

Testing, modeling, or project-specific research might include
-Measuring energy consumption;
-Thermal imaging of buildings;
-Testing building performance during extended power outages or other emergency situations;
-Using blower door tests to identify air leaks in buildings;
-Creating mock-ups of lighting options;
-Testing natural ventilation methods;
-Thermal imaging of buildings;
-Testing the effect of buffered storage enclosures on moderating fluctuating environmental conditions;
-Recommissioning or tuning small-scale climate control systems; or
-Adjusting the operating protocols for climate control systems.

To enhance the outcomes of planning grants and to encourage incremental improvements in the care of collections, applicants may request additional funds to carry out one or more recommendations made by the interdisciplinary planning team during the course of the project. Such work could help demonstrate the benefits of sustainable preservation strategies or lead to new information or changes in conditions that would influence “next steps.” Applicants should confer with their consultants before submitting an application to determine whether to request such funds to carry out recommendations of the planning team.

Please note: SCHC planning grants are intended to address complex preservation challenges, which only an interdisciplinary team can solve. Therefore, an applicant for a planning grant must have completed its basic preservation planning and identified its preservation challenges and priorities. Such basic activities as completing general preservation/conservation assessments and establishing environmental monitoring programs are not eligible for support through SCHC. For support of general assessments and initial environmental monitoring programs, see NEH’s Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions.

Projects that seek to serve the field by advancing best practices and standards for preserving and enhancing access to humanities collections are eligible for support through NEH’s Research and Development grants.

Implementation Grants:

Grants are available to help an institution implement a preventive conservation project. Implementation projects must focus on sustainable or resilient preservation strategies. Projects should be based on planning that has been specific to the needs of the institution and its collections within the context of its local environment. It is not necessary to receive an NEH planning grant to be eligible for an implementation grant. Planning for sustainable preservation strategies could be supported by NEH, other federal agencies, private foundations, or an institution’s internal funds.

Implementation grants to preserve humanities collections might be used to
-Manage interior relative humidity and temperature by passive methods (such as creating buffered spaces and housing, controlling moisture at its sources, or improving the thermal and moisture performance of a building envelope);
-Upgrade a building automation system to enable more active management of a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system;
-Recommission or install heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems;
-Reorganize collections by material type, locating more vulnerable collections in spaces
that are more naturally stable;
-Install storage systems and rehouse collections;
-Improve security and the protection of collections from fire, floods, and other disasters; or
-Upgrade lighting systems and controls, to achieve energy efficiency and levels suitable for collections.

Implementation grants may cover costs associated with renovation required to implement sustainable preventive conservation measures. Because SCHC grants may not fund new construction, the costs of installing climate control, security, and fire protection systems in a building under construction are not eligible. However, grants may support the purchase of storage furniture and the rehousing of collections that will be moved into a new building.

The Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program does not support activities such as cataloging, documenting, and digitizing collections. Applicants wishing to catalog, document, or digitize humanities collections should seek support through Humanities Collections and Reference Resources.

Lessons Learned:

All grantees will be expected to create a white paper documenting lessons learned, so that others can learn more about sustainable preventive conservation strategies. White papers will be posted on the NEH website. Applicants should be prepared to report data in their white papers that enable comparison of conditions, energy use, and costs before and after the implementation of preventive conservation measures.

Special requirements for projects involving construction, renovation, repair, rehabilitation, or ground or visual disturbances:

All NEH-funded projects involving construction, renovation, repair, rehabilitation, or ground or visual disturbances must comply with federal laws on wage rates, disability rights, and historic preservation. Such projects may therefore require extra documentation as well as an extra review before NEH can release any federal funds. Applicants should familiarize themselves with the requirements described below; NEH cannot release any grant funds until these federal requirements are met.

I. Davis-Bacon requirements

Institutions using NEH funds for projects involving construction, renovation, repair, rehabilitation, or ground or visual disturbances must comply with the Davis-Bacon Act. Applicants must therefore take into account the effect of the Davis-Bacon Act on costs. Additional information is available here. Applicants for such projects should affirm in the proposal that they will meet the requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act.

II. Americans with Disabilities Act

Article 26 (e) of NEH’s General Terms and Conditions for Awards requires grant recipients and subrecipients to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Title III of the ADA covers places of public accommodation (such as museums, libraries, and educational institutions) and includes a specific section regarding new construction and alterations in public accommodations. The website provides comprehensive information that grantees can consult concerning compliance with the ADA, including the text of the legislation, the revised regulations implementing Title II and Title III of the ADA, and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

III. National Historic Preservation Act:

All NEH-funded projects involving construction, renovation, repair, rehabilitation, or ground or visual disturbances must comply with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA, PDF). Applicants should familiarize themselves with Section 106 of the NHPA and its implementing regulations.

Section 106 of the NHPA: Prior to the expenditure of any federal funds, section 106 requires NEH to review the effects of projects offered NEH funding on historic properties that are listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. When applicable, NEH must also provide the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) an opportunity to comment on such projects prior to the expenditure of any federal funds.

To understand and navigate the Section 106 review process, applicants should familiarize themselves with the Section 106 materials available here. There is no formula for how long a given Section 106 review may take, so applicants should build sufficient time into their project plans to allow for a potentially lengthy review. NEH does not formally initiate a Section 106 review until it offers support for a project. However, applicants should know that an applicant offered an SCHC grant cannot begin any work involving construction, renovation, repair, rehabilitation, or ground or visual disturbances—and that NEH cannot release any federal funds—until NEH concludes its Section 106 review.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 151066

Estimated Size of Grant:

The maximum award for Planning Grants is ordinarily $40,000. Planning applications may, however, request up to an additional $10,000 to carry out one or more recommendations made by the interdisciplinary planning team during the course of the project. For such applications, the maximum award is $50,000.

The maximum award for Implementation Grants is $350,000.

Term of Contract:

Projects may begin October 2018.

Planning projects may be supported for up to two years.

Grants can be made for up to five years for Implementation projects.


  • City or township governments
  • County governments
  • Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized)
  • Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
  • Private institutions of higher education
  • Public and State controlled institutions of higher education
  • See RFP and/or Grant Guidelines for full eligibility
  • Special district governments
  • State governments

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

U.S. nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status are eligible, as are state and local governmental agencies and federally recognized Native American tribal governments. Individuals are not eligible to apply.

NEH generally does not award grants to other federal entities or to applicants whose projects are so closely intertwined with a federal entity that the project takes on characteristics of the federal entity’s own authorized activities. This does not preclude applicants from using grant funds from, or sites and materials controlled by, other federal entities in their projects.

Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grants may not be used for
-General conservation or preservation assessments and other basic preservation projects that could be supported through Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions;
-The preservation of materials that are the responsibility of an agency of the federal government, are privately held, or are not freely accessible for research;
-The installation of climate control, security, lighting, and fire protection systems as a component of a project to construct a new building;
-The preservation of the built or natural environment;
-The renovation or restoration of historic structures, except insofar as that activity is needed to preserve humanities collections that such structures house;
-The stabilization of archaeological sites;
-Asbestos abatement;
-Promotion of a particular political, religious, or ideological point of view;
-Advocacy for a particular program of social or political action;
-Support of specific public policies or legislation; or
-Projects that fall outside of the humanities (including the creation or performance of art; creative writing, memoirs, and creative nonfiction; and empirically based social science research or policy studies).

Previously Funded Projects:

An institution whose project has received NEH support may apply for a grant for a new or subsequent stage of that project. These proposals receive no special consideration and will be judged by the same criteria as others in the grant competition. In addition, these proposals must be substantially updated and must include a description of the new activities and a justification of the new budget. The applicant must also describe how the previously funded project met its goals.

Pre-Application Information:

Although cost sharing is not required, this program is rarely able to support the full costs of projects approved for funding. In most cases, SCHC grants cover no more than 80 percent of project costs for planning projects and 50 percent of project costs for implementation projects.

NEH strongly recommends that applicant organizations update (or, if necessary, create) their SAM Entity records at least four weeks before the application deadline.

All applications to this program must be submitted via NEH strongly recommends that you complete or verify your registration at least two weeks before the application deadline, since it takes time to process your registration.

Program staff recommends that draft proposals be submitted at least six weeks before the deadline. Time constraints may prevent staff from reviewing draft proposals submitted after that date.

Applications must be received by by 11:59 PM (Eastern Time), Tuesday, December 5, 2017. NEH strongly suggests that you submit your application no later than 5:00 PM Eastern Time on the day of the deadline. Supplementary materials must also arrive at NEH on or before December 5, 2017, to be considered as part of the application.


-Until December 5, 2017: Contact Division of Preservation and Access program officers with questions and for advice (optional)

-October 23, 2017: Submit draft application (optional) by this date

-November 7, 2017: Create or verify your institution’s Entity record at the System for Award Management by this date

-November 21, 2017: Register your institution (or verify its registration) with by this date

-December 5, 2017: Submit application through and (if appropriate) submit supplementary materials to NEH by this date

-March-April 2018: peer review panels take place

-July 2018: meeting of the National Council on the Humanities, followed by funding decisions

-August 2018: applicants are notified of the funding decisions

-September 2018: institutional grants administrators and project directors of successful applications receive award documents by e-mail

-October 2018: successful applicants may begin work on their projects

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Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.


The supplementary materials should be sent to the following address:

Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections
Division of Preservation and Access
National Endowment for the Humanities
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20506

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USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming