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Q&A: Community Engagement Grant Applications

Recently the National Endowment for the Arts launched the new Creative Forces Community Engagement Grants. The NEA developed this grant opportunity in partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA), and M-AAA also manages the grant program. Christine Bial, M-AAA’s director of arts & humanities grant programs, spoke to us about this funding opportunity and what areas potential applicants should consider as they put together a proposal.

Recently the National Endowment for the Arts launched the new Creative Forces Community Engagement Grants. The NEA developed this grant opportunity in partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA), and M-AAA also manages the grant program. Christine Bial, M-AAA’s director of arts & humanities grant programs, spoke to us about this funding opportunity and what areas potential applicants should consider as they put together a proposal.

What are you looking for in successful proposals?

The primary focus of this grant program is to improve the health, well-being, and quality of life for military service members and veterans exposed to trauma as well as their families and caregivers through experiences of art or art making. It’s important to keep in mind that within this population, there is a diversity of experiences and needs that vary based on a host of factors, including age, branch of service, service member rank/military connection, and region. Each community has different organizations and resources available to serve military-connected populations.

We will seek proposals that acknowledge and complement the diversity and experiences of military-connected individuals and projects that are customized to meet their specific needs within the local community. In particular, a successful proposal should be developed and implemented with the participation and representation of the individuals it intends to serve and a project that leverages partners, and/or collaborates with existing community resources and programming.

Studies commissioned by Creative Forces found that partnerships and collaborations allow organizations to address a wider array of needs, access more participants, and provide higher-quality programming and support to participants.

Who are the participants that are being served by these programs?

This grant program serves trauma-exposed military-connected participants. For the purposes of the grant program, this includes active-duty service members, guardsmen, reservists, veterans, military and veteran families, as well as caregivers and health care workers providing care for military service members and veterans. Programs can serve the targeted military-connected population at large or focus on specific populations within the broader targeted community, such reservists and military and veteran families.

Subgroups of the targeted military-connected population may have distinct experiences and needs. Yet, many available arts and military programs were created specifically for service members and veterans, with programming that includes family members and/or caregivers often being extensions of the original programming. Military caregivers and health care workers who provide care for military service members and veterans may also be served by these grants.

While projects may focus on reaching specific populations within the broader targeted community, they may not be exclusionary under national laws and policies prohibiting discrimination and must comply with the Federal policies and legal requirements, statues, and regulations as stated in M-AAA’s Assurance of Compliance.

What type of organizations do you expect to apply for this funding?

We anticipate organizations vested in their communities—geographic and/or affinity-based—to apply for this grant. This includes community-focused arts organizations such as local arts agencies, local theaters, art centers, museums, city and county governments, federally recognized tribal communities, social service organizations, veteran and military service organizations, and academic institutions.

If your organization doesn’t have prior experience serving military-connected individuals, keep in mind that military-connected individuals come from all walks of life, and they may already be benefiting from your organization’s work. Learn more about applicant eligibility in the grant guidelines.

What resources are available for organizations that have never worked with military-connected populations, but want to?

There are several resources available, including:

1. The Creative Forces National Resource Center has resources for organizations looking to provide community arts engagement for military-connected individuals, including the findings and lessons learned from a study of ten community arts engagement pilot projects funded by Creative Forces and a summary of interviews with subject matter experts on serving military-connected populations.

2. Many other federal government organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Institute of Museum and Library Services have developed online resources for organizations and individuals working with the veteran and military-connected population in the community space.

3. State level Departments or Agencies of Veteran’s Affairs provide support and services to veterans within their state and work with other organizations who also serve veterans.  

4. Many state arts agencies and local arts agencies have funded or accomplished initiatives, summits, and/or other projects in the arts and military space and may be good starting points to learn more. For instance:

 a. The Oklahoma Arts Council has conducted multiple activities in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs as a part of their Oklahoma Arts and Military Initiative, including distributing a survey to assess the presence of arts programming serving military-connected populations.

 b. In April 2021, the Indiana Arts Commission hosted a Creative Arts and Veterans webinar with several representatives of the Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs on how to meaningfully connect the arts with the veteran community.

5. Organizations may also have internal resources to draw upon.

  •  a. Have you asked past and current participants if they have military connections?
  •  b. Does someone on your staff or board have connections with military-connected populations in your community?
  •  c. Are there organizations you already have a relationship with that currently work with military-connected populations that you can contact to start the conversation?

What if an organization already has an arts and military program in place? Are they eligible to apply or are you looking to support new programs?

Organizations with existing arts and military programs in place are absolutely eligible to apply for the grant. This grant has two tiers for organizations—Emerging and Advanced. The Emerging grant tier is for eligible organizations to develop and implement new or emerging non-clinical arts engagement programs for military-connected populations or for small organizations. The Advanced tier provides support to organizations for established non-clinical arts engagement projects for military-connected populations. During the grant period of performance, Creative Forces and M-AAA will provide technical assistance aligned with the project stages of each tier.  

What type of activities are you looking for in the Emerging and Advanced tiers?

We set up the tiers in a way that facilitates progression. The Emerging tier is focused on helping organizations establish foundations and processes and could include activities that:

1. identify needs of the local military community,
2. establish partnerships between organizations,
3. build an understanding of military culture,
4. build community and military understanding of the value of arts engagement,
5. build organizational capacity and plan for post-grant sustainability of a project, and
6. implement a non-clinical arts engagement project for a military-connected population (which could include adapting an existing program).

The Advanced tier focuses on implementing or expanding an established non-clinical arts engagement project. Applicants in the advanced tier must provide evidence of military cultural competency, demonstrate an understanding of how the project activities are aligned with and will support the desired participant and organizational aims and outcomes, and details on the implementation of the project that can be utilized to construct a logic model during the grant period of performance. 

What should organizations do now to start preparing their applications?

Organizations new to working with military populations should start engaging with military personnel, creative arts therapists, or other community organizations working with military-connected individuals in an effort to gain awareness and knowledge for the distinct challenges and opportunities of working with military-connected individuals. As an example, as a part of VetArtSpan (a previously-funded Creative Forces Community Connections project), the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida, identified the Military Resilience Foundation as a resource for military cultural competency and hired them to produce a three-part video series about veterans sharing their first-hand experiences with a primer on understanding military culture and the role of art in healing.  

Organizations may look at their existing programs to see if they can be extended or adapted to serve military-connected populations. Think about what resources this opportunity could provide in order to enhance what your organization is already doing.

Creative Forces Community Engagement grants require at least one partner, so organizations can start identifying and contacting potential partners now. Partnerships can be with multiple types of entities and fulfill a variety of roles and contributions. Examples of partners from Community Engagement projects for military-connected populations funded by Creative Forces included military and veteran medical entities, academic institutions, museums and performing arts centers, and more.

On the administrative side, if you haven’t already done so, finalize your registration in the System for Award Management and ensure you have a unique entity identifier (UEI).

And finally, review the guidelines carefully.

Learn more about the Creative Forces Community Engagement Grants on M-AAA’s website and explore stories about arts and military projects at


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