Fiscal Year 2020
Deadline: Monday, January 14, 2019, by 11:59 p.m. (CST)

First time applicants to this category must submit a letter of intent to apply by October, 30. The letter should describe how the applicant meets the eligibility requirements and the evaluation criteria for the category. Include a staff list with current annual salaries and benefits and your most recent audit, IRS Form 990, or year-end financial statement. Address this letter to: Hal Partlow, Associate Director for Grants, and do not exceed three pages. The Tennessee Arts Commission will contact you to discuss your eligibility to submit a full application by January 14, 2019, and funding potential in this category.

FY2020 Arts Specialty License Plate Promotion Requirements


The Major Cultural Institution (MCI) category provides operating support to well-established arts organizations chartered in Tennessee that represent the highest level of quality programming and administration. Funding will depend upon an organization’s application rating from the review process, circumstances that could affect services provided to the community and the total amount of funds available to the Commission for grant allocation. This category is competitive.

Applicants must have an annual cash operating income (excluding in-kind contributions) of at least $1 million per year. Failure to meet the $1 million base operating figure will result in the loss of eligibility in this category. Organizations must maintain the $1 million budget level for a minimum of two consecutive years before requesting entrance into this category.

Organizations may request 10 percent of their total annual cash operating expenses in their most recently completed fiscal year at the time they submit their application up to, but not exceeding the maximum grant of $100,000. The total annual cash operating expenses, verified by an audit submitted by the applicant, will be determined by the sum total of personnel, outside fees and services, space rental, travel, marketing and remaining operating expenses. In determining a request, the following operating expenses are not allowed: capital expenses, endowment funds expenses, penalties payments, in-kind expenses, bank penalties, or furniture and fixture expenditures exceeding $2,500.

Applicant organizations must submit a complete application every year. Organizations are reviewed every other year by out-of-state evaluators. Probationary organizations may be required to submit to a review annually until the Commission determines that biennial reviews are appropriate. Commission staff will notify all current MCI applicants of their review status and schedule if appropriate.

The grant period for this application is July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020. Applicants are expected to submit final evaluations no later than June 15.

Affirmative Duty to Report Major Organizational Change
If funded, all grantees must promptly notify the Commission in writing of any significant changes in the organization’s structure, leadership or financial circumstances that could affect services provided under the grant contract resulting from this application.

Eligibility Requirements

Applicant must be either a single-entity organization responsible for its own programming and primarily dedicated to one art discipline, or an arts council which serves a broad population and interacts with local arts organizations. (Arts festivals, arts centers and presenting organizations are not eligible for this grant category.) A substantial amount of year-round public activity and programming that significantly impacts Tennesseans and their communities must be evident.

Applicant must have existed as an arts organization or arts council in Tennessee for a minimum of six (6) years prior to the date of application and have received a minimum of three (3) consecutive years of Commission funding in the Partnership Support Grant category.

An organization is eligible to apply for funding if the organization is legally chartered in Tennessee and has its headquarters and home season, or activities equivalent to a home season for non-producing organizations, in Tennessee, and meets either of the following qualifications: active IRS 501(c)3 status or public arts council that serves a broad population and interacts with local arts organizations. A significant amount of year-round public activity and programming must be evident.

The existence of professional management, which is defined as employing a full-time paid administrative or artistic director, must be evident. Additionally, a commitment to compensating (in salaries, wages, fees, and/or benefits) the administrative, artistic, and technical/production personnel whose services contribute directly to the organization must be evident.

The organization must demonstrate ongoing fiscal responsibility through an audit conducted externally by a certified public accountant (CPA) for its most recently completed fiscal year at the time of application. Organizations in this category should use an accrual accounting system. Note: failure to submit a single entity audit of the most recently completed fiscal year will jeopardize eligibility and funding.

Organizations must have a board approved long-range plan covering at least the current and next fiscal years.

Arts organizations that receive revenue from a “New Specialty Earmarked Plate” under T.C.A 55-4-215 (a) (1) are ineligible for Commission grant funding.

A freestanding academic institution, which has as its mission, training and accreditation in one or more arts disciplines, is not eligible in this category. Such organizations may submit an application under the Cultural Education Partnership (CEP) Grant category.

PLEASE NOTE: An organization SHOULD NOT apply in this grant category if at the time of application it cannot meet all of the above stated requirements.

The Tennessee Arts Commission reserves the right to deny any application or withhold funding in whole or in part, if the applicant organization programming and activities are outside of the scope or spirit of the Commission’s mission, purpose, or this grant program.

Evaluation Criteria & Panel review

It is recommended that the director, chief financial officer, and board chair/president represent the organization at the review meeting. Evaluators reviewing grant applications under this program use the following evaluation criteria (10 points each) citing evidence that the organization:

  • Advances the organization’s mission and artistic vision
  • Demonstrates artistic, cultural, and/or educational value to the community being served
  • Understands their role as an advocate for the public value of the arts in the community
  • Understands and is responsive to the diverse interests and needs of the community it serves
  • Planning procedures are comprehensive, inclusive and communicated
  • Understands and demonstrates the value of public and private partnerships
  • Demonstrates financial stability and a broad base of financial support
  • Understands principles of documentation and evaluation, and results are used to guide future planning and programming
  • Management demonstrates consistency and stability
  • Application is well planned, addresses all questions and is correct and complete in all information

Additionally, evaluators may ask applicants to address other topics, including but not exclusive to:

  • How the organization meets the evaluation criteria
  • Specific information found in the grant application
  • Community outreach activities
  • Unique services offered by the organization
  • Evidence of local, state, regional, or national recognition and impact
  • Changes in organizational structure, leadership or financial circumstances that could affect services provided
  • Arts advocacy and specialty license plate sale efforts in Tennessee
  • Organizational long-range goals and objectives
  • Detailed information about major productions, presentations or exhibitions in the recent past, present and next two years
  • Preservation, conservation or restoration activities
  • The space(s) in which your organization conducts its artistic and administrative activities
  • Recent and anticipated major equipment acquisitions
  • Program evaluation process
  • Board and committee responsibilities
  • Board/staff relationships
  • Board diversity
  • Educational programming
  • Salary information for administrative and artistic personnel
  • Hiring practices and personnel policies
  • Policy and procedures relevant to financial activities and sustainability, such as planning, fund-raising, internal controls, endowments, capital assets, strengths and weaknesses for major programmatic activities, potential for growth, special short-range issues, building maintenance and travel

The Tennessee Arts Commission reserves the right to deny any application or withhold funding in whole or in part, if the applicant organization programming and activities are outside of the scope or spirit of the Commission’s mission, purpose, or this grant program.


All Commission sponsored programs, services and facilities are fully accessible to all Tennessee artists and citizens. Organizations are urged to consider contracting with diverse artists, artists living with disabilities, and/or artists representing Tennessee’s diverse artistic and cultural heritage. No person on the basis 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.

Deadline and How to Apply
  1. 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 a MCI 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. Update the Policy Statements in the organization’s online grants system profile annually. Do this prior to submitting annual grant applications.  With particular regard to past successes and future plans, address:
    1. the Arts Advocacy Statement, and
    2. the Specialty License Plate (& Gift-A-Tag Voucher) statement. Explain how the organization has met, or exceeded, the contractual requirements for FY 2020. Beginning with FY 2021, reviewers will evaluation how an organization promotes, beyond contractual compliance, the Arts Specialty License Plate program.
  5. 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.
  6. When both your “Organization” and “People” profiles are complete and accurate, select the “Apply for Grants” tab again and choose the MCI grant application link.
  7. Complete all of the application fields.
  8. Create and upload required attachments.
  9. Submit by Monday, January 14, 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 prepopulate in the organization name field on any newly opened application. To change to another associated organization, simply delete the prepopulated name and type in the correct organization.

Required Documents

You will be prompted to create and upload the following documents in the Required Documents section of your Annual Application in the Online Grants System.

  1. Proof of Arts Advocacy. Advocacy is educating and communicating to the public, including public officials, the importance of the arts and how public support of the arts can and has impacted your community. Examples of arts advocacy proof may include: membership in Tennesseans for the Arts; copies of recent letters to legislators and other elected officials; photos of elected officials at the applicant’s arts events; newspaper articles that create awareness about public support for the arts through the organization’s activities (news articles that primarily market events are not acceptable); promoting the Specialty License Plate program; and other pertinent print materials. Proof of advocacy must be demonstrated by the applicant organization. Applicants may notsubmit advocacy efforts conducted by contracted personnel. Multiple examples of arts advocacy will strengthen the application, but only one example that proves advocacy is required.
  2. Bios & Job Descriptions. Short, biographical statements and job descriptions of administrative and artistic personnel including those contracted who are involved in the grant activities. Full resumes should only be included with the supplementary materials.
  3. Long-range Plan. Plan should cover at least the current and next fiscal years.
  4. Organizational Flowchart.
  5. Financial audit and management letter (from an independent CPA). For the most recently completed fiscal year, at the time of application.
  6. Audit Response Form. Locate the audit response form in the Document Library, located in the left hand menu after logging in to the online grant account. Fill out any information pertinent including appropriate signature, save, and upload into your application.
  7. List of Board of Directors. Only nonprofit organizations with 501(c) 3 status will be prompted to upload this document. The board list (at the time of application) must include the following:
  • Full Name
  • Occupation
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Number of years on the board
  • Length of term(s)

NOTE: Other biographical information about individual board members should NOT be included on this list. Legal requirements state that Commission funds granted to an organization may not be used as a payment of any kind, for any purpose, to members of an organization’s board.

  1. Corporation Annual Report: Only nonprofit organizations with 501(c) 3 status will be prompted to upload this document (as required to be 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 found here. Entities of government do NOT submit.
Additional Documents

You will NOT be prompted to upload these documents in the system, but these documents may be required based on your applicant type.

Optional Materials. These include proof of advocacy, project examples. These documents can be uploaded in the “Documents” section below the “Required Documents” section of your application.

Accepted file types include .pdf, .jpg, or .png. For video and audio samples, provides links to projects in the section labeled “Optional Material Link(s)” below the “Documents” section.

  1. In preparation of the FY 2020 contractual requirement, operating support recipients are strongly encouraged to start a promotional campaign in FY 2019 that meets the basic minimum as detailed here. Organizations can upload documentation of those efforts beginning with the FY 2020 application.


Bylaws: Only nonprofit organizations with 501(c) 3 status need to upload this document. Upload the most recent copy of the organization’s Bylaws into the “Organization” profile where prompted, not into the grant application.

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