Action Grants

Grantee partner Dr. Treasure Shields Redmond, Executive Director of the Community Archive

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Up to $4,000




Feb 1, 2024


May 15, 2024

Nonprofit organizations pursuing innovative programming in the digital humanities, for audience engagement, or audience growth and diversification are candidates for this project-based grant. From oral history projects to filmmaking, these initiatives inspire risk-taking in the public humanities, paving the way for others to follow. Partnering with organizations in this work helps us all to learn how to grow audiences for the humanities in new and engaging ways.

Award Timeline

The entire grant review process typically takes about 10 weeks from the deadline until groups are notified about funding. The timeline for activities seeking funding should not begin until 12 weeks after the initial LOI deadline. Groups should submit one grant application per cycle.

  1. LOI's are reviewed. Successful LOI applicants are invited to submit a full proposal. (Approximately two weeks)
  2. Applicants have two to three weeks to complete the full proposal
  3. Full proposals are reviewed. Successful applicants are notified. (Approximately three weeks)
  4. Applicants review and sign grant agreements. Grant funds are issued two to three weeks after the signed grant agreement is received.
  5. Within 30 days of the conclusion of a project or grant period, grantees must complete a final grant report.
Eligibility and Guidelines


  1. Must be a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization or have a fiscal sponsor
  2. Organizations or projects must be Illinois-based
  3. The project must be rooted in the humanities
    a. Learn how we define the humanities in our Frequently Asked Questions section below
  4. Priority given to organizations with an annual budget of $1 million or less
  5. Can not have an open Vision, Action, or General Operating grant

Questions about your eligibility? View our Frequently Asked Questions or contact us.


Action Grants cover projects or initiatives that explore the digital humanities, apply new techniques in audience engagement, and build new and diverse audiences. Priority is given to projects that spark more risk-taking and experimental and engaging public humanities work on the part of Illinois nonprofits. Project budgets can cover project expenses as well as engagement activities. Projects must utilize the humanities. Media projects such as oral history, filmmaking, journalism, storytelling, and other disciplines are all a part of this field.

Additional Funding

  1. Optional Accessibility Fund: An additional stipend of up to $250 for services such as American Sign Language interpretation or captioning to help make events more accessible to everyone.
  2. Optional Media Fund: An additional stipend of up to $100 for services such as documentation, photography, videography, etc.
How to Apply

Submit a Letter of Intent (LOI) using our grant application portal, Foundant.


  1. The timeline for activities seeking funding should not begin until 12 weeks after the initial LOI deadline. 
  2. Applicants should submit one grant application per cycle.
  3. Recurring Deadlines*: 5:00 p.m. CST on January 15th and May 15th 

*When the grant deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline will move to the next business day.

Evaluation and Documentation

Evaluation and documentation are important to us, and we are eager to see how grant applicants define success and plan to measure progress toward it. We ask grant applicants to describe in precise terms the project's desired outcome, and how they will know if it was successful. Within 30 days of the conclusion of a project or grant period, grantees must complete a final grant report.

We ask all Grant recipients to document their initiatives or events by taking photos, recording audio or video, and sharing their experience with us. We want to share with others the great work that grantees are doing and frequently feature stories of grantee partners in our news and on social media @ILHumanities.

Additional Funding

  1. Optional Accessibility Fund: An additional stipend of up to $250 for services such as American Sign Language interpretation or captioning to help make events more accessible to everyone.
  2. Optional Media Fund: An additional stipend of up to $100 for services such as documentation, photography, videography, etc.
Grantee Resources
  1. Complete your final report via our grantee portal.
  2. Official IH Logo (August 2021 version "Illinois Humanities" is bolded)
  3. Grant Acknowledgement Language: This program was made possible in part by a grant from Illinois Humanities.
  4. Resources for grantee partners and grant seekers.

Below are brief descriptions of funded projects.

  1. The Oak Park Arts League (OPAL) was founded in 1921 with the goal of promoting arts appreciation. It received an Action grant in 2016 to support its Art for Social Change initiative, a collaborative project with Sarah’s Inn and Threshold to support the emotional recovery of its clients and raise awareness of the healing power of the arts and humanities. To increase outreach for the series, OPAL co-hosted an open house with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, had ads in Chicago Gallery News, and produced 500 postcards. As a result of its grant, OPAL experienced exceptional foot traffic and had 58 artists submit 140 works for the project, two thirds of them artists outside of OPAL’s membership base.
  2. The Freeport Public Library (FPL) has run a One Book, One Freeport event every year since 2010, bringing the larger Freeport community together around a single text. It received an Action grant for One Book 2017, which was developed around Shelton Johnson’s novel Gloryland. FPL was able to hold a successful One Book initiative, which included partnering with a local camera club to put up an exhibit on national parks and to engage with participants of all ages – from story time in the library through programs at a Senior Resource Center.
Moving Dialogue April 18 indian dancer

Moving Dialogue series by grantee partner See Chicago Dance.

Make Literary Prodctns Lit Luz 2019 credit Lisa Korpan

The Lit & Luz festival produced by grantee partner MAKE Literary Productions. (Photo by Lisa Korpan)

Through Action Grants, we hope to learn more about the following questions along with grantees:
  • What are models for building creative interactivity and growing audiences?
  • Can creative programming help to grow audiences?
  • How can this experimentation bolster organizations’ long-term viability?
Contact Us

Mark Hallett
Director of Grants Programs

Joanne Hsu
Grants Programs Manager

Grantee Partner Spotlight

Liberation Library Book packing day example pre pandemic
Liberation Library book packing day

Liberation Library

Grantee Partner Spotlight: Liberation Library

Liberation Library is a Chicago-based, volunteer-led, and democratically organized prison abolition organization. They received an Illinois Humanities grant to expand programming offered to incarcerated youth.

Learn More

Frequently Asked Questions

What is your definition of the humanities?

The humanities are the examination of what it means to be human through the interpretation and discussion of all forms of thought, interest, and expression.

We value traditional humanities disciplines, such as art history, literature, history, and philosophy. However, our emphasis on the public humanities means that we look at the humanities as more than an academic discipline. For us, the public humanities are a mode of inquiry and conversation that aims to engage, support, or challenge the ideals, beliefs, tensions, and prejudices of the communities in which we live. We believe that important thought can happen outside of the academy–in neighborhood institutions, schools, churches, and at kitchen tables across the country.

We are especially interested in instances of the public humanities that promote civic engagement–in raising critical issues facing everyday people and conducted with the hope of increasing their thirst for staying engaged. Rather than being defined by rigid disciplinary boundaries, it is the humanistic lens, which emphasizes curiosity, questioning, and dialogue, that matters.

Does your organization have a working definition of the public humanities? Share it with us–we’re eager to explore how others are addressing this complex question.

What activities and expenses does Illinois Humanities not fund?

Illinois Humanities supports public humanities programs, initiatives, and organizations. We do not fund:

  • Activities that promote a specific political position or ideology
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Businesses, for-profits
  • Capital projects (i.e., renovation or purchase of buildings or land)
  • Endowment contributions
  • Foreign travel
  • Lobbying
  • Major equipment purchases (though equipment to assist a specific program is admissible)
  • Out-of-state programs that have no specific relevance or thematic connection people in Illinois (though technically a grant recipient or fiscal agent can be located elsewhere in the U.S.)
  • Programming that falls outside of the humanities
  • Social services (though a social services agency may apply for funding of a humanities project)
Can I have more than one active grant with Illinois Humanities at a time?

In general, grantees may have one open Vision, Action, or General Operating grant at a given time.  Before applying for a new grant, current grantees should be sure to conclude their open grant by submitting a final report.

A grantee may have an open Vision, Action, or General Operating grant and still receive an Activate History microgrant, Multiplier, Envisioning Justice, or Foreground Rural Initiative grant.

Note: If your organization acts as a fiscal agent for another, you may have an open grant and still receive funding for any grant offered by Illinois Humanities.

Who can apply?

Nonprofit organizations can apply for Illinois Humanities grants. This includes 501(c)3 organizations and nonprofits under state law, as well as libraries, schools, faith-based organizations, and universities. We do not accept grant applications from individuals or for-profit companies. If you are unsure about whether you can apply, reach out to us.

Why does Illinois Humanities have a grant-making program?

Illinois Humanities has been making grants since its inception in 1973 with over 3,000 awards given, totaling over $22 million. We are proud to have helped support dozens of documentary films, conferences, exhibits, training programs, oral history projects, and scores of other activities. We are firm believers in the many organizations and individuals throughout the state of Illinois that value the humanities, culture, and dialogue as community-building activities, and wish to help them fulfill their missions, carry out high-quality programming, and grow their organizations. We are indebted to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Illinois General Assembly for the support that allows this grantmaking program to exist.