Museums preserve history, share knowledge and invite people into worlds they might not otherwise experience. Museums may preserve a single collection, celebrate a single topic or place, or explore a broader subject such as science or art. Whether privately or publicly run, nonprofit or for-profit, the journey to opening a museum usually begins with building a facility or modifying an existing building to house the museum. Several sources offer grants to help offset the cost of this first step.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services awards grants to museums throughout the United States and its territories. The museum must be associated with a government entity or a private, nonprofit group and must be open to the public on a regular basis. The museum must also have at least one professional staff member, though this person may be a volunteer. In addition to regular grants, the institute awards special grants to Native American, Native Hawaiian and African American museums.
If your museum is housed in a historic structure, you may be eligible for a historic preservation grant. The Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation posts information about grants for this purpose. In addition, state and local historical societies may offer grants to preserve historic structures or promote local or regional history. For example, the Ohio History Fund uses tax donations to award matching grants to a number of historical museums in Ohio each year.
The National Endowment for the Humanities’ Division of Public Programs awards grants to museums to implement exhibits and preserve historic sites or structures. These implementation grants can pay for such things as research, development of a design, consultation with an expert or installation of an exhibit. The NEH also awards Challenge Grants to fund the acquisition of items for a collection, renovation or acquisition of museum facilities, or for purchase of equipment.
Local governments and private local organizations may also award grants to museums. For example, when the city of Harvey, Illinois, wanted to turn the former City Hall into a museum, organizers received a grant from Cook County and an additional Community Development Block Grant to help fund the project. Your state or local arts council, community development council or chamber of commerce are good places to look for more information about locally available grants for museums.