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Deadline: November 1, 2018

Institute of Museum and Library Services: Inspire! Grants for Small Museums

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Inspire! Grants for Small Museums is a special initiative of the Museums for America Program. This initiative is designed to inspire small museums to apply for and implement projects that address priorities identified in their strategic plan. IMLS invites applications that focus on providing rich learning experiences for individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and circumstances; supporting partnerships aimed at assessing and addressing the needs of their communities; strengthening the role of museums as trusted stewards of the collections in their care; and/or expanding access to collections and associated resources. There are three project categories:

1. Lifelong Learning: IMLS supports the unique ability of museums to encourage exploration, analysis, and questioning for people of all ages and backgrounds and to foster discovery, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. Projects may include, but are not limited to, the following activities:

  • Enhanced museum resources that foster early, digital, information, health, financial, media, civic, and other types of literacies
  • Interpretive and educational programs, product development, and delivery
  • Exhibition development, design, and fabrication (non-construction)
  • Digital learning resource development, design, and delivery
  • Programs designed for audiences of specific backgrounds, geography, or circumstances (for example, rural communities or persons with disabilities)
  • Professional development/training for formal and informal educators
  • Learning partnerships with schools and development of museum resources and programs in support of K-12 school curricula
  • Learning partnerships with schools and other entities and development of museum resources and programs in support of career preparedness and workforce re-entry for all ages
  • Programs and partnership development for out-of-school audiences
  • Program evaluation, visitor studies, and market analysis to guide the development, the redesign, and/or effective delivery of learning experiences

2. Community Anchors and Catalysts: IMLS promotes the role of museums as essential partners in addressing the needs of their communities by leveraging their expertise, knowledge, physical space, technology, and other resources. IMLS encourages applications for projects that empower museums to transform their roles in their communities from being community resources to being community anchors or catalysts. 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
  • Conducting community-focused planning activities
  • Implementing audience-focused studies and evaluation
  • Applying cross-sector partnership development models and programs to define shared visions for community improvement
  • Working with the community to create measures and gather information to understand project progress and impacts

3. Collections Stewardship and Public Access: IMLS supports the role of museums of all types and sizes as trusted stewards of museum collections as the natural, cultural, artistic, historical, and scientific foundations of shared heritage and knowledge. Projects may include, but are not limited to, the following activities:

  • Planning for the management, care, and conservation of collections
  • Cataloging, inventorying, documenting, and registration of collections
  • Implementing and enhancing collections management systems in a sustainable manner
  • Planning and initiating digitization activities, including creating digital tools, training, and platforms that allow expanded public access to and use of the museum’s collection and related information
  • Developing partnerships that address barriers to accessing museum collections and related information
  • Conducting conservation surveys and assessments
  • Executing conservation treatments
  • Rehousing collections
  • Planning and implementing environmental improvements (non-construction) for museum collections storage and exhibit areas

Amount: A total of $1,000,000 is available to make up to 25 awards that range from $5,000-$50,000. The project period is for up to two years.

Eligibility: Organizations must meet all three of the following criteria:

1. Be either a unit of state or local government or be a private, nonprofit organization that has tax-exempt status;

2. 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. Qualify as one of the following: (a) A museum that, using a professional staff, is organized on a permanent basis for essentially educational 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; or (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.


  • The term “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.
  • 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.
  • 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 (see solicitation for more details).

Link: https://www.imls.gov/grants/available/inspire-grants-small-museums

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