NEH Announces $39M in Grants but Sites Fare Poorly IMHO

At the end of July, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced $39 million in grants for 244 projects across 15 program areas (e.g., America’s Historical and Cultural Organizations, Landmarks of American History and Culture, and Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections Grants).  NEH is the major federal source of funds for historic sites and house museums, so these grant announcements provide a sense of what’s happening in the field to see what’s innovative or excellent (or what attracts funding).  Some examples of grant recipients who are focused on historic sites include:

Chicago Architecture Foundation
NEH Program: Landmarks of American History, $172,393
Project Director: Jean Linsner
Project Title: The American Skyscraper: Transforming Chicago and the Nation
Project Description: Two one-week workshops for eighty school teachers on the
development of the skyscraper in Chicago and the relationship of skyscrapers to

U.S.S. Constitution Museum 
NEH Program: Landmarks of American History, $179,548
Project Director: Sarah Watkins
Project Title: The U.S.S. Constitution and the War of 1812
Project Description: Two one-week workshops for eighty school teachers on the naval War of 1812 and its most important and complex artifact, the United States frigate Constitution, anchored in Boston.

Wilderstein Preservation
NEH Program: Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections, $50,000
Project Director: Duane Watson
Project Title: Planning for a Sustainable Preservation Environment in the Wilderstein Mansion
Project Description: A planning project to identify ways to create and maintain sustainable environmental conditions in Wilderstein, a historic house museum with collections of fine and decorative arts, manuscript materials, books, photographs, maps, deeds, sheet music, and architectural and landscape drawings that were acquired and preserved by four generations of the Suckley family who lived in the house from 1852 to 1991.

National Society of the Colonial Dames of America
NEH Program: Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections, $37,965
Project Director: Karen Daly
Project Title: Interdisciplinary Assessment and Plan for an Energy Efficient HVAC
System for Dumbarton House
Project Description: Planning for sustainable environmental conditions to preserve humanities collections in Dumbarton House, a Federal period historic house museum with holdings of furniture, fine and decorative arts, household goods, clothing and textiles, as well as books, manuscripts, and maps that document the history of Georgetown and Washington, D.C., in the early 1800s.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc.
NEH Program: Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections, $40,000
Project Director: Sara Jane (Sally) Elk
Project Title: Evaluation of Potential Collection Storage Areas at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
Project Description: A planning project to determine storage solutions for 2,600 artifacts and 1,300 publications, archival records, photographs, and oral history recordings of prison life dating from the late 18th to mid-20th centuries.

National Civil Rights Museum 
NEH Program: America’s Historical & Cultural Organizations Implementation, $352,000
Project Director: Barbara Andrews
Project Title: Renovation of the Lorraine Motel Permanent Exhibits
Project Description: Implementation of a new 14,500-square-foot permanent exhibition on the history of African American efforts to gain freedom and equality and the interpretation of the Lorraine Motel historic site at the National Civil Rights Museum.

Congratulations to everyone on their grants!  If you applied and weren’t funded, be sure to request the comments from the review panel.  They’ll be helpful not only if you plan to apply again (rumor has it you have to apply 2-3 times before you’re funded) but even if you don’t, you get free advice from your peers about your project.

Grants Awards, July 2012, National Endowment for the Humanities.

If you are really interested in federal support for historic sites, house museums, or even museums in general, don’t scan the entire 46 page list of awards.  I found it rather disheartening.  Fifty-one percent of the grants (and largest ones, as well) were given to colleges and universities–how are we supposed to compete with their resources and development departments?  Historic sites and house museums received only 3 percent of the grants, even though they represent the largest type of museum in the United States and have the fewest resources.  The disparity really struck me when I noticed that in Washington, DC, a city packed with humanities-based institutions (e.g., museums, historic sites, libraries, and universities), only three grants were awarded–two to the Folger Shakespeare Library.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love the Folger and support its mission, but really, can so few institutions in Washington, DC qualify for an NEH grant? Is it fair that a non-profit organization with $275 million in assets receive $509,056 in federal monies?  It may be time that the federal funding process needs to be revised to better align with institutional needs and be more equitably distributed.