ACLS Sustaining Public Engagement Grants

The online fellowship and grant administration (OFA) system is now open for applications.

Grant Details

  • Amount: between $50,000 and $225,000
  • Tenure: twelve consecutive months to be initiated as early as April 1, 2022, and no later than August 1, 2022
  • Completed applications must be submitted through the ACLS online fellowship and grant administration system ( no later than 9 pm Eastern Standard Time, December 7, 2021. 
  • Notifications will be sent via email by March 31, 2022.

The information provided here is a summary of the program, and details eligibilityevaluation criteria, and application requirements for the program. Please read carefully through the material and accompanying FAQ. All applications must be received by 9pm EST, December 7, 2021.


The American Council of Learned Societies is pleased to invite applications for ACLS Sustaining Public Engagement Grants, a responsive funding program made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) initiative. These grants are designed to repair the damage done to publicly engaged humanities projects and programs by the social and economic disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Publicly engaged humanists today play key roles in co-creating and circulating knowledge for the public good, but these programs face greater risk of closure or reductions in uncertain times. ACLS seeks proposals for grants that will support established publicly engaged humanities projects, initiatives, or programs in accredited US colleges and universities. With $3.5 million provided under the SHARP initiative, ACLS will conduct a rigorous and inclusive peer review process to select up to 40 projects or programs for grants that will redress programming setbacks and/or reductions in internal capacity and staffing support on the part of faculty, staff, students, and community partners due to pandemic conditions.

ACLS strongly encourages applications from across the diverse institutional landscape of US higher education, including Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), regional public institutions, and community colleges. Applicants will be required to demonstrate how their programs engage with issues of urgent public interest in one or more of the program’s six key areas: racial equity; climate change; US-global relations; public health and pandemic recovery; strengthening democracy, and exploring America’s diverse history.

The grants will range between $50,000 and $225,000 for terms of 12 months. Award terms may commence as early as April 1, 2022, and no later than August 1, 2022. These grants are intended to provide timely support, and therefore applicants should propose an amount that reflects realistic public engagement activities and capacity building over the 12-month period of the award term. Matching funds and cost sharing are not required for the grant term, though additional consideration will be given to proposals that demonstrate thoughtful plans for longer-term sustainability.

ACLS understands that institutions with limited administrative capacity and/or experience with grant-seeking may face challenges in developing proposals for this competition. ACLS provides sample budgets and FAQ and will host webinars reviewing the application process, including one specifically geared toward institutions with limited records of receiving external grants for their programs. Questions may be submitted to

The strongest proposals will demonstrate that their projects have:

  • an established track record of successful public engagement on issues related to this program’s core thematic areas;
  • sustained involvement by members of the campus community;
  • the capacity to use grant funds to sustain staffing and programming that have been reduced due to the pandemic;
  • prioritized programmatic work with extra-mural communities. While program capacity building (curricular development, salary support for students, staff, and faculty) can be key components of proposals, projects that do not support direct community engagement would be considered less relevant.
  • a demonstrated commitment to fairly and equitably supporting project participants facing special precarity due to the pandemic, including adjunct and other non-tenure track faculty, students and faculty from historically underrepresented backgrounds in higher education, and community partners (for example, through fair compensation, equitable participation, and recognition of participant involvement, among other means).

The proposal must explain how grant funding will repair the negative impact of the pandemic, for example through the retention of displaced or furloughed faculty and staff; remuneration for community collaborators, staff, students, and faculty to engage with the work of the project; and the rebuilding of closed or reduced projects and programming. For the purposes of this grant program, indirect costs of up to 10% of the total grant budget will be permitted. Please see the budget section below and the FAQ for further information about the uses of grant funds.


  • Project must be hosted by an accredited institution of higher education in the United States.
  • Project must demonstrate established relationships with partners and/or audiences beyond the academy.
  • Project’s principal investigator must be a scholar in a field of the humanities.
  • Project must be grounded in the publicly engaged humanities. See our FAQ for more information about the publicly engaged humanities.

Evaluation Criteria

Peer reviewers in this program are asked to evaluate all eligible proposals on the following five criteria:

  • The project’s basis in the humanities and its record of impact in the fields and with the communities it seeks to engage;
  • The quality of the project’s engagement of faculty, students, and staff at the home institution and of its relationships with partners and audiences beyond the campus;
  • Demonstration of the direct impact of the pandemic upon the home institution’s humanities community and/or the operational capacity of the project;
  • The capacity of the grant funds to sustain and/or extend the project in ways that equitably and appropriately support participants on and off campus;
  • The home institution’s demonstrated interest in supporting the execution of, and reporting on, the project during the grant term.

Application Requirements

All applications will include the following items. Proposal, timeline, budget, and staffing list should leave a one-inch margin and use 11-point font.

  • completed application form, including a project abstract and brief description of need/articulation with program’s mission and themes;
  • proposal narrative of no more than eight pages, double-spaced, containing the following labeled sections:
    • Project History and Impact: This section should provide a history of work on the project or program to date, and some measurement of the effort’s current impact among participating communities and audiences beyond the academy (such as records of participant involvement in programming, feedback from participants, user metrics, etc.). Projects that are in relatively early stages of development, with no track records of successful public engagement, are not competitive for these grants.
    • Description of Need and Project Overview: Applicants should describe, briefly but specifically, how the grant funds will redress disruptions and reductions caused by the pandemic, and what the project team plans to do and why. Demonstration of the grant’s capacity to advance projects and support scholars, staff, and participants who have been adversely affected by the pandemic, demonstration of strong grounding in the publicly engaged humanities, and demonstration of commitment to engaging participants equitably will be key criteria for selection. It is essential that applicants state explicitly how the grant will advance the project or program in ways that align with the goals of this funding program.
    • Sustainability: Applications should address, briefly but specifically, how the project might be sustained beyond the term of the ACLS grant.
  • project timeline, no more than two double-spaced pages
    The timeline should provide a coherent plan for the development and execution of the project. This plan should reflect a realistic approach to deploying grant funds during the 12-month award period. The feasibility of the project and the capacity for the grant funds to be deployed effectively within the award are important considerations.
  • detailed budget plan, no more than two pages
    The budget will provide a detailed account of the proposed use of the grant funds. (ACLS makes available a sample budget for reference.)  If grant funds will support course buyout for faculty participants or percentage effort for other project team members, the budget must itemize the funds dedicated toward the salary and benefits replacement of each relevant team member. Grant funds may be used toward institutional overhead according to the terms laid out in the call for proposals, though strong proposals will direct the vast majority of the funds directly toward the project or program’s proposed work. ACLS welcomes proposals that provide honoraria and other remuneration (as appropriate) for key project participants in the communities engaged by the project. Please note that the following costs are not allowed:
    • overlapping project costs with any other pending or approved application(s) for federal funding and/or approved federal awards
    • competitive regranting
    • cancellation costs
    • pre-award costs incurred more than 90 days before the start of the grant term
    • equipment costs in excess of 20% of total project costs
    • travel (both foreign and domestic)
    • construction, purchase of real property, major alteration and renovation
    • collections acquisition
    • the preservation, organization, or description of materials that are not regularly accessible for research, education, or public programming
    • promotion of a particular political, religious, or ideological point of view
    • advocacy of a particular program of social or political action
    • support of specific public policies or legislation
    • lobbying
    • projects that fall outside of the humanities and the humanistic social sciences (including the creation or performance of art; creative writing, autobiographies, memoirs, and creative nonfiction; and quantitative social science research or policy studies)
    • support of non-US citizens
  • list of the names and institutional affiliations of members of the project team and a brief description of each member’s role(s) and capacities on the project
    Please provide a list of the names and institutional affiliations of members of the project team and a description of each member’s role(s) and capacities on the project. If new staff will be hired to support the development of the project during the grant term, please describe the hiring process/timeline. If graduate students or recent PhDs will be hired for the project team, the application should outline what resources these early career scholars would have access to as a member of the team/community and how the role will advance their longer-term career interests. If work is proposed with external consultants or contractors, please describe how these partners were chosen and what expertise they provide. Finally, please include two-page CVs for the principal investigator and any co-investigators.
  • endorsement from a senior official of the home institution confirming the institution’s support of the project. The institutional statement should be submitted by a senior official of the principal investigator’s home institution or the institution hosting the project (i.e., a dean, provost, president, or other appropriate senior administrator). The form asks the institutional representative to confirm that the institution's existing programs support the activities to be undertaken for the specified project.

Proposals are due to ACLS’s online application portal by 9 PM EST Tuesday, December 7, 2021. Applicants will be notified no later than March 31.