Guidelines – Collections


We offer grants to support increased public access to collections that illuminate the unique culture, history and heritage of the Chicago region or the Lowcountry of South Carolina. We have particular interest in at-risk collections, creative interpretation of collections, and helping organizations expand support for digitization efforts.


Regionally-focused collections – including documents, books, maps, photographs and artifacts – help us understand who we are and how the places where we live came to be. The information gleaned from collections can be important, too, for guiding future decisions about culture and place. Having easy and engaging access to collections of art, artifacts, letters, photographs, manuscripts and maps is vital for historians, artists and the general public alike.


After reviewing our strategy and the eligibility requirements below, please call us to discuss your project, so we can provide guidance and answer any questions you may have. If there is a fit between your project and our strategy, we will send a link to the online application form.


We focus our collections grants in three distinct project areas:

1) At-risk Collections:

The Foundation offers project grants to organizations to preserve at-risk collections. At-risk collections include orphan collections (those being deaccessioned with no identified future home); those in private hands (proverbial ones in basements, attics and forgotten storerooms) that are transitioning to the care of organizations or include a public access strategy; collections held by organizations with limited capacities; and occasionally collections within larger institutions.

For at-risk collections, the Foundation supports a range of projects from stabilization to restoration to archival processing.

Grants for at-risk collections vary in size, depending on several factors.

2) Creative Interpretation:

The Foundation offers project planning grants for institutions to work with artists, curators, historians and other creatives to engage audiences in new, dynamic ways; that push the envelope of presentation and interpretation; that go beyond the typical array of exhibits and exhibitions in drawing attention to collections of exceptional regional significance.

Institutions that receive planning grants may be eligible in the future for partial funding support to implement projects of exceptional promise.

Planning grants may be up to $25,000.

3) Digitization:

The Foundation offers challenge grants for digitization projects of the highest value, regionally-focused collections. A higher priority will be placed on those digitized collections that can be made available through one of the regional digital portals: Lowcountry Digital Library (College of Charleston), EXPLORE Chicago Collections (Chicago Collections Consortium) or the Community Collections Portal (Chicago Cultural Alliance.)

The purpose of challenge grants, beyond supporting expanded public accessibility, is to help institutions build a stronger base of support for stewarding its collections long-term.

Organizations may apply for a maximum of three challenge grants, provided they demonstrate progress toward building and sustaining long-term support.

Grants for digitizing collections vary in size, depending on several factors.


As noted previously, all projects must be regionally focused and lead toward increased public access. Additional criteria we consider in making our grant decisions include:

  • Uniqueness of collection
  • Size of collection
  • Demand for access
  • Capacity/stability of applicant organization

To be eligible for a grant:

  • You must be a 501(c)(3) public charity. We do not make collections grants through fiscal sponsors or agents.
  • You must be in compliance with your Secretary of State.
  • You must have completed at least one full fiscal year of operations before applying.
  • A technology plan is in place or in development.
  • A letter of agreement is secured from any partner organizations.
  • You must contact us to discuss your project before submitting, so please allow time ahead of the deadline to do so.
    • In the Chicago Region contact Ellen Placey Wadey, Senior Program Officer, at 312.977.2700.
    • In the Lowcountry contact the office at 843.277.2041.

The following are not eligible:

  • Individuals.
  • Religious activities, political campaigns, or legislative lobbying.
  • Stand-alone conferences, publications, films, events, websites, or videos.
  • Endowments, capital campaigns, or debt reduction.

Eligible Project Expenses:

To maximize the value of the Foundation’s limited resources, eligible expenses are restricted to direct project costs, including:

  • Archival materials (preservation supplies, file folders, storage cabinets, etc.)
  • Temporary staff, consultants or interns exclusively dedicated to the preservation project
  • Computer software specific to the preservation project
  • Contractual preservation services
  • Guest artist fee, honorarium, travel, lodging, etc. (creative interpretation only)


Ineligible Expenses:

  • Buildings and fixtures
  • Existing staff time
  • Overhead or indirect expenses
  • New computer hardware
  • Upgrades to existing computer software
  • Website operation, design, build or upgrade
  • Publications, brochures, etc. unless a part of a creative interpretation project

How to Apply

You must contact us to discuss your project before submitting, so please allow time ahead of the deadline to do so.

In the Chicago Region contact Ellen Placey Wadey, Senior Program Officer, at 312.977.2700.

In the Lowcountry, contact the Lowcountry office at 843.277.2041.


Your complete proposal must be submitted online by 11:59pm Central Time on July 31, 2020 for review at our November 2020 board meeting. It takes about four months from grant application deadline through board decision. After the board meeting, you’ll hear from us within a couple weeks.