Arts Build Communities (ABC) Grant Program Guidelines
Fiscal Year 2020: August 16, 2019 – June 15, 2020

Before applying for a grant, all applicants are responsible for reading the Legal Requirements for Tennessee Arts Commission funding.


The Arts Build Communities (ABC) grant program is designed to provide support for arts projects that broaden access to arts experiences, address community quality of life issues through the arts, or enhance the sustainability of asset-based cultural enterprises. ABC funds may be used to:

  • Provide innovative arts experiences that are new or unfamiliar to community residents
  • Offer arts programs that are designed to help affect positive change in community social issues
  • Develop arts programming that strengthens social networks through community engagement
  • Undertake cultural arts initiatives that enhance a community’s identity and/or economic development
  • Offer training that helps experienced or emerging artists/arts administrators develop entrepreneurial skills or innovative strategies for building sustainability

The Commission offers the ABC program through a decentralized decision-making and distribution process in partnership with regional designated agencies. Through ABC, the Commission seeks to build communities by nurturing artists, arts organizations (including local arts agencies), and arts supporters in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties.


  • 13 designated agencies administer the ABC program on behalf of the Commission in all 95 counties.
  • Funds a variety of quality arts projects
  • Awards range from $500 to $2,500
  • Funds requested may be listed in up to two Expense Categories in the PROJECTED PROJECT EXPENSES section of the application
  • Grant funds in this category must be matched dollar-for-dollar (please review “Matching Requirements” in these guidelines)
  • Only one grant application may be submitted per applicant per year in this program


Applications must be submitted online by 11:59 p.m. (CT) on July 1, 2019. Applications can be accessed beginning at 8:00 a.m. (CT) on April 1, 2019 through the Commission’s Online Grants System. Applicants accessing the new Online Grants System for the first time must register their organizations and create an organizational profile.


Designated agencies are trained to assist ABC applicants with identifying eligible activities, providing feedback on draft applications, administering local grant review panels, and helping grant recipients track the success of funded activities. Prior to submitting an application, qualifying organizations are encouraged to discuss the program or project proposal with your designated agency representative. To identify the appropriate designated agency, look for the applicant’s home county by clicking here.

If you need help, please contact one of the designated agencies or Shannon Ford, Director of Community Arts Development, or (615) 532-9796.

Contact: Rodney Van Valkenburg
301 E. 11th St., #300, Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: (423) 777-4214
County Served: Hamilton

Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville
Contact: Suzanne Cada
PO Box 2506, Knoxville, TN 37901-2506
Phone: (865) 523-7543
Counties Served: Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier, Union

Contact: Colleen McCartney
575 South Mendenhall, Memphis TN 38117-4215
Phone: (901) 578-2787
Counties Served: Fayette, Lauderdale, Shelby, Tipton

Clarksville Arts & Heritage Development Council
Contact: Ellen Kanervo
PO Box 555, 200 South Second Street
Clarksville, TN 37041-0555
Phone: (931) 551-8870
Counties Served: Cheatham, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery, Robertson, Stewart

First Tennessee Development District
Contact: Mark Stevans
First Tennessee Development District
3211 N. Roan Street, Johnson City, TN 37601
Phone: (423) 928-0224
Counties Served: Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, Washington

Greater Nashville Regional Council
Contact: Rasheedah Pardue
138 2nd Ave. N., Suite 300, Nashville, TN 37201
Phone: (615) 862-8855, Ext. 1018
Counties Served: Rutherford, Sumner, Trousdale, Williamson, Wilson

Jackson Arts Council
Contact: Melinda Hearn Reid
314 East Main St., Jackson, TN 38301-6226
Phone: (731) 423-2787
Counties Served: Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, McNairy

Metro Nashville Arts Commission
Contact: Ian Myers
P.O. Box 106300, Nashville, TN 37219-6300
Phone: (615) 862-6730
County Served: Davidson

Northwest Tennessee Development District
Contact: Tim Belton
124 Weldon Drive, Martin, TN 38237
Phone: 731-587-4213
Counties Served: Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henry, Lake, Obion, Weakley

Rose Center
Contact: Candy Durman
PO Box 1976, 442 West Second North Street, Morristown, TN 37816-1976
Phone: (423) 581-4330
Counties Served: Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson

South Central Tennessee Development District
Contact: Sarah Elizabeth McLeod
101 Sam Watkins Blvd., Mt. Pleasant, TN 38474-4024
Phone: (931) 379-2944
Counties Served: Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Giles, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore, Perry, Wayne

Southeast Tennessee Development District
Contact: Melissa Mortimer
1000 Riverfront Parkway, Chattanooga, TN 37405-2103
Phone: (423) 423-4266
Counties Served: Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, Sequatchie

Upper Cumberland Development District
Contact: Tasha Schwenn
1225 South Willow Ave., Cookeville, TN 38506-4158
Phone: (931) 255-1481
Counties Served: Cannon, Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, Van Buren, Warren, White


Any organization awarded Major Cultural Institution, Cultural Education Partnership or Partnership Support funding for FY2020 (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020) is not eligible to apply for an ABC grant.

Financial assistance may be requested by an organization for arts activities if it meets all applicable requirements described in these guidelines. Individuals are not eligible to apply for ABC funding.

Debarment and Suspension. Grantees are required to sign contracts certifying to the best of its knowledge and belief, that it, its current and future principals, its current and future subcontractors and their principals are not presently debarred, suspended, proposed for debarment, declared ineligible, or voluntarily excluded from covered transactions by any federal or state department or agency.

DUNS Number: All applicants are required to have a DUNS number. Information and application instructions can be found here.

An organization is eligible to apply for funding support of its arts activities if the organization meets one of the following qualifications:

  • The organization is a nonprofit organization legally chartered in Tennessee and in possession of a determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service declaring the organization exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Private educational institutions must be a nonprofit and meet these tax-exempt requirements.


  • The organization is an entity of government (such as city/county government departments, public libraries, public schools, etc.)

Colleges and universities are eligible only for activities that clearly serve the needs of surrounding communities or the State and are designed to involve a broad audience. Activities that are credit-producing or are oriented primarily to collegiate students and the academic community are not eligible.


All 501(c)(3) applicants must upload their most recent copy of the organization’s By-laws into their organizational profiles in the Online Grants System.

Nonprofit applicants’ 501(c)(3) statuses will be verified independently prior to being reviewed by a designated agency panel. Any applications from organizations with lapsed or unconfirmed nonprofit determination will be disqualified.


The proposed project must take place and grants funds must be used between August 16, 2019 and June 15, 2020.

ABC funds may NOT be used:

  • To support a project already funded by the Commission
  • For capital improvements (buildings or construction), for permanent equipment purchases or for the elimination of an accumulated deficit. Such expenditures that relate to the proposed project may be used as matching expenses up to $2,500
  • As “seed money” for starting new organizations
  • For in-school, curriculum-based projects. Projects may target youth as participants and can occur within school facilities outside of regular school hours
  • To begin, match, add to or complete any type of endowment campaign or program
  • For out-of-state travel expenses

Please note:

  • All projects sponsored in part or entirely with ABC funds must be accessible to the general public
  • Applications from colleges or universities or other institutions of higher education, whether public or private, must emphasize non-academic community involvement in the planning and implementation of the project


The following are examples of activities and expenditures that are consistent with the funding philosophy for ABC:

  • Projects that involve and promote Tennessee artists
  • Visiting artists conducting master classes
  • Festival coordination and programming
  • Public performances, productions and exhibitions produced by the applicant
  • Exhibitions of art by Tennessee artists and artists from outside Tennessee
  • Promotion, publicity and newsletters
  • Administrative and artistic staff support
  • Research and documentation as part of a project or program development
  • Touring projects that bring professional performers to communities across the state
  • Improved program accessibility for underserved constituencies, such as at-risk youth, economically disadvantaged individuals, people living in rural communities or isolated settings, people with disabilities, people of color and senior citizens
  • Art in public places
  • Extensions of literary projects, journals with continuing publication or juried anthologies
  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Computer software/training that builds or enhances creative workforce skills
  • Technical/production support


The following are examples of activities and expenditures not fundable through ABC:

  • Insurance premiums
  • Endowments
  • Office space rental
  • Janitorial service and general physical plant maintenance
  • Food and hospitality
  • Permanent equipment purchases
  • Scholarships
  • Payment of accumulated deficits
  • Capital improvements
  • New periodicals, books, etc. (such as vanity publications)
  • Out-of-state travel
  • Scholarly arts-related research and writing
  • Cash awards
  • Purchase of local public art
  • Legal fees
  • Planned fundraising events
  • Events to which the general public is not invited
  • Payments to members of the organization’s board
  • Consultant fees for technical assistance


ABC requires at least a one-to-one (1:1) dollar match. “One-to-one dollar match” means the applicant must cover at least half the cost of a project or program through other income sources. Matching funds may be listed in multiple expense categories.

In-kind contributions cannot be used for the one-to-one (1:1) dollar match requirement, but the Commission wants to know about such contributions. Space is provided in the budget of the ABC application for estimating the value of in-kind contributions. Such contributions should include those services and supplies for which the applicant under normal circumstances would have to pay, but are being donated without charge for the project. The value of volunteer time should be estimated and included only when the time is directly related to the project.

To monitor the grant matching requirements, an applicant who receives ABC funds must maintain accurate records for all revenue and expenditures.


An application to ABC goes through a local review process. Notification of your panel review date and time will be made within approximately 21 days from the application deadline. An advisory panel of at least five (5) members reviews these applications. Four or more members are selected from the arts community represented by your designated agency. One panel member will be either a Commission member or staff person. While not required, your attendance at the panel review meeting is strongly encouraged.

Advisory panels reviewing grant applications for this program assign scores based on how well the proposed project addresses ABC program objectives (see page 1) and use the following evaluation criteria on a 100-point scale:

Artistic/Cultural Merit (35 points)
Applications should provide evidence of how the proposed arts/cultural project shows value to the community being served. Competitive applications may demonstrate artistic/cultural merit by showing how projects will accomplish one or more of the following:

  • Provide arts experiences that expose participants to new perspectives or media
  • Deepen audiences’ appreciation of artists, media, or movements
  • Provide opportunities for engagement in the creative process
  • Advance community priorities and/or address social issues in or through the arts
  • Promote local traditions or community assets in or through the arts
  • Build social connections and understanding between diverse groups of people
  • Enhance the sustainability of cultural enterprises
  • Provide a hospitable environment for arts organizations and/or artists to thrive creatively and/or economically

Competitive applications may also demonstrate that proposed project supports the work of artists through payment of fees, services or appropriate benefits.

Community Engagement and Participation (35 points)
Applications should provide evidence of how organizations understand and are responsive to diverse interests and needs of communities served. Competitive applications will demonstrate the engagement and participation of their communities by not only showing how proposed projects advance organizational missions, but also by showing to what extent community members are involved in planning, executing and evaluating the projects.

Additional evidence includes: needs assessment research; formal partnerships that advance project goals through resource and responsibility sharing; and demonstrated support from local community leaders.

Competitive applications may also demonstrate goals and objectives that are designed to address social issues or build economic sustainability through the arts.

Budget and Financial Support (20 points)
Applications should include realistic project budgets with accurate cost and income estimates. Competitive applications will show that organizations are actively raising matching funds through requests to individual contributors, private corporations, foundations, government sources, AND/OR through viable earned revenue projections.

Operational Practice (10 points)
Applications should provide evidence that planning procedures are clear, inclusive and include discussion on past project results (when appropriate). Competitive applications will address all application questions and provide correct and complete information.


All ABC sponsored programs, services and facilities are fully accessible to all Tennessee artists and citizens. Artists representing Tennessee’s diverse artistic and cultural heritage are urged to apply and participate in programs and activities. No person on the ground of race, color, national origin, disability, age, religion or sex shall be excluded from participation in, or be denied benefits of, or otherwise be subject to discrimination of services, programs and employment provided by the Commission and its contracting agencies. If an individual believes he or she has been subjected to discrimination he/she should contact the Commission’s Director of Arts Access, Kim Johnson, (615) 532-9797.

For FY2020, any applicant awarded an ABC grant will be required to submit Title VI training and certification in the online grants system by October 1, 2019. Instructions for completing this required training is found here.


  • Read all instructions carefully before completing any part of the application form.
  • All questions must be answered. Supplying complete and accurate information is the responsibility of the applicant. Incomplete applications will likely receive low scores by a review panel if they are accepted at all.
  • Clearly and briefly respond to the questions asked. Regardless of the number of characters used, your answers MUST fit into the space provided online. We recommend editing your answers for clarity and simplicity.

Deadline and How to Apply

  1. If you are a new applicant to the Tennessee Arts Commission, register to use the Online Grants System. You are strongly advised to register well in advance to the application deadline. Anyone registering close to the deadline date can expect delays in the processing of their grant application.
  2. Log in to the Online Grants System to complete your “Organization” profile and begin an application for an ABC grant.
  3. Use the “Organizations” tab on the left-hand menu to ensure that the profile is complete and accurate. This information is as important as the application itself. Incomplete or erroneous data will impact your chances for funding. To edit the profile, click the “Edit” button at the top of the Organization screen.
  4. Use the “People” tab on the left-hand menu to ensure that your “People” profile is complete and accurate. This information will also be used in the review of the application. To edit the profile, click the “Edit” button at the top of the screen.
  5. When both your “Organization” and “People” profiles are complete and accurate, select the “Apply for Grants” tab again and choose the ABC grant application.
  6. Complete all of the application fields.
  7. Create and upload required attachments.
  8. Submit by Monday, July 1, 2019 , by 11:59 p.m. (CST).

NOTE: The forms in this portal do not auto-save. Always click the “Save” button before navigating away from the form you are editing to save your work.

Beware—clicking the back navigation button on your web browser will exit you from the system and you will lose your work.

Association or Connection to Multiple Organizations: If you are associated with more than one organization, the organization that you were originally associated with will pre-populate in the organization name field on any newly opened application. To change to another associated organization, simply delete the pre-populated name and type in the correct organization.


Locally organized peer review panels will review applications in late July or August. Your designated agency will send an email confirming receipt of your application as well as a panel review schedule. If you have not received a confirmation email by July 21, please contact your designated agency or Shannon Ford, 615-532-9796 for more information.


You will be prompted to upload the following Supporting Materials in the REQUIRED DOCUMENTS section of the application. Prepare and title each of the following documents before submitting your application.

For Non-Profit and Government Applicants:

List of Board of Directors, Advisory Committee or Council members.
The board list (at the time of application) must include the following:

  • Full Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Number of years on the board
  • Length of term(s)

For Non-Profit Applicants Only:

Public schools and entities of government do NOT need to submit this document.

Corporation Annual Report as filed annually with the Secretary of State’s Office. In lieu of the report, you may also submit a copy of the email verification issued by the Secretary of State’s office or a copy of the online verification sheet maintained by the Secretary of State’s Office.


Applicants may upload documents or supply a weblink to media for panels to review. The documents or link should be directly related to the application proposal.

Support material will be viewed online by panelists prior to the applicant’s scheduled review and will not be accepted by the Commission or designated agencies at the panel meeting.

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