Recognizing the importance of experiencing original works of art firsthand, the Terra Foundation supports exhibitions that increase the understanding and appreciation of historical American art (circa 1500–1980). The foundation has a particular interest in exhibitions that travel outside the United States or to Chicago, where we’re headquartered. For exhibitions that travel outside the United States, we encourage:
- A focused thesis that makes a significant contribution to scholarship on historical American art
- International curatorial involvement
- Inclusion of international catalogue essayists
- A presentation that is meaningful to international audiences
Visual arts that are eligible for Terra Foundation Exhibition Grants include painting; sculpture; works on paper (prints, drawings, watercolors, photographs); decorative arts (typically handmade functional objects of high aesthetic quality); design (objects of high aesthetic quality; excludes industrial design); performance art; video art; and conceptual art. Excluded are architecture and commercial film/animation.
Exhibition Grant proposals will be reviewed by an external panel of scholars and curators who are specialists in historical American art.
For information about our exhibition initiative for US museums, please visit Past/Present: An Exhibition Initiative for US Museums.
Exhibitions voted on in the Spring of a given year must open after July 1 of that year to be eligible for funding. Exhibitions voted on in the Fall of a given year must open after February 1 of the next calendar year to be eligible for funding.
To document the Terra Foundation’s support, grants must be acknowledged in exhibition publication and marketing materials.
Spring 2020 Awards
Letter of Inquiry: August 1, 2019
Proposal: October 15, 2019
Fall 2020 Awards
Letter of Inquiry: March 2, 2020
Proposal: May 15, 2020
Spring 2021 Awards
Letter of Inquiry: August 3, 2020
Proposal: October 15, 2020
Fall 2021 Awards
Letter of Inquiry: March 1, 2021
Proposal: May 14, 2021
If the foundation responds to a letter of inquiry by requesting a proposal, the organization applying for a grant will be expected to complete an application. See “How to Apply” below.
The foundation only accepts proposals from institutions with United States 501(c)(3) status or the international equivalent. Exhibition Grants are not made to individuals.
There are three types of institutions eligible for funding:
American institutions organizing:
1. Exhibitions on any aspect of historical American art that travel internationally.
- At least one international venue must be secured before a letter of inquiry is submitted.
- Any grant award would be made to the American organizer, but it must offset costs incurred by both the organizer and any international venue[s]. These do not have to be shared costs, but frequently are.
2. Exhibitions on any aspect of historical American art that are co-organized with an international venue.
- Co-organizers must apply jointly.
International institutions organizing exhibitions on any aspect of historical American art.
- The organizing museum(s) must apply for any non-US tour venues (exception: any exhibition with a Chicago venue, see below)
- If co-organizing with another museum, co-organizers must apply jointly.
Chicago institutions organizing exhibitions on any aspect of historical American art.
- The organizing museum may apply for funding for itself and any international partner or venue.
Chicago institutions hosting exhibitions on any aspect of historical American art.
- If an exhibition organized by a non-Chicago institution travels to Chicago, only the Chicago exhibition presenter may apply for funding. However, funding is available to the organizer if the exhibition also travels internationally (even in that case, however, funding must also be requested to offset costs of the Chicago venue).
- For details, please contact Program Director of Exhibition & Academic Grants Carrie Haslett ([email protected]) in advance of submitting a letter of inquiry.
The Terra Foundation requires that exhibitions include the following:
- New ways of thinking about American art,
- Scholarly interpretation and a contextualized presentation,
- Engagement with exceptional art objects,
- Related scholarly publications (i.e., an exhibition catalogue), and
- Related educational programming tailored for the intended audience.
Grant funding is also available for exhibitions that include objects from the Terra Foundation collection (see Terra Collection Initiatives).
The Terra Foundation does not accept proposals for:
- Acquisitions or capital expenditures;
- Exhibitions and programs focused primarily on art made after 1980 (note bene: if all or most of the art is American, at least half must date to before 1980);
- Exhibitions primarily comprised of single private or commercial collections;
- Exhibitions without catalogues;
- Online exhibitions;
- Permanent collection installations;
- Exhibitions focused on performance art, architecture, conservation, or film;
- Exhibitions previously opened touring to new venues; or
- Exhibitions previously declined by the Terra Foundation.
As the foundation prefers to fund full tours, we will only accept one proposal per exhibition. The proposal must come from the organizing institution(s), unless there is a Chicago venue, in which case see “Chicago” in the eligibility guidelines above.
Please note that the award of a research & development grant does not guarantee eligibility in the exhibition grant program area.
If you have questions about our Exhibition Grants, please visit the Grant FAQs page or contact [email protected] or Program Director of Exhibition & Academic Grants Carrie Haslett ([email protected]).
How to Apply
The Terra Foundation for American Art has moved its grant making to an online system. With the new system, grant seekers will benefit from a streamlined application process. Review the FAQ for additional information on the online application process.
The grant application process is three-part:
- Before submitting a formal proposal to the Terra Foundation, prospective applicants must complete a letter of inquiry (LOI) using this link: Exhibition Program Letter of Inquiry
- After reviewing the letter of inquiry, the foundation may invite the submission of a formal online proposal.
- Formal grant proposals undergo a review process before final decisions are made by the foundation’s Board of Directors.
Letter of Inquiry (LOI)
A letter of inquiry must precede any formal grant proposal to the Terra Foundation; formal proposals are accepted only by invitation of the foundation after review of the letter of inquiry. A prospective applicant can expect to hear from the foundation within three weeks of receipt of its letter. The online Letter of Inquiry will require the following information:
- Brief statement of the organization’s purpose and goals
- Description of the project, including its beginning and ending dates as well as the need and audience it addresses
- Objectives of the project
- Other organizing partners and funding sources and amounts for the project, if relevant
- Preliminary or draft exhibition checklist noting prospective lenders
- Internal deadline for submission of changes to exhibition catalogue (Please be aware that the Terra Foundation for American Art requires the inclusion of its logo in the catalogue of any funded exhibition).
- Total cost of project and the grant amount requested
All letters must be written in English.
After a letter of inquiry is reviewed, prospective applicants may be invited to submit a formal proposal through the online system. Please note that an invitation for a formal proposal does not guarantee funding at any level. Formal proposals must be written or translated in English. All attachments should also be written or translated into English.
While the formal proposal must be submitted through the online system, you may download a PDF of the application for your reference: