How Museums Can Obtain Emergency Coronavirus Funding

Faced by mounting financial tensions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many museum professionals were, and may still be,feeling uncertain about the future of their institutions. With their core operations disrupted and doors closed to the public, it’s unclear when daily activities can return to full capacity. However, new coronavirus funding for museums could provide some timely relief.

Emergency initiatives in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom were announced by their respective governments, arts councils, and private funds, meant to stabilize cultural institutions and uphold employee salaries. We have shared some of the latest opportunities, so your museum can apply for relevant funding and stay informed.

The situation was changing rapidly, with new relief programs being rolled out every few weeks. More opportunities became available and the guidelines on past initiatives shifted or expanded; all relevant details were added to this article as they became available. Please note we maintained and updated this funding guide to reflect those changes until the last applications closed.

United States

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The United States Congress has unveiled a $2.2 trillion economic relief package – known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – which includes much-needed support for American museums and cultural institutions.

Scheduled to obtain $200 million collectively, and mandated to funnel operational grants back into America’s museum sector, are the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA and NEH closed their portals to new applications on April 22, and May 11, 2020, respectively. However, the NEH accepted grant proposals until June 12, 2020, with full details posted in the next section.

Museums should also pay close attention to the following loan programs and tax credits, presented in the CARES Act:

  • Paycheck Protection Program (Small Business Administration 7(a) Loans: Nonprofit organizations with 500 or less employees may qualify for up to $10 million in loans, meant to cover operational costs and employee salaries. Partial or full loans will be forgiven, provided that certain guidelines are met. View the full details.
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Loan Advances (SBA 7(b) loans): By adding an extra $10 billion to the EIDL program and eliminating credit requirements, this loan program offers advances of up to $10,000 to nonprofit organizations of 500 or less employees, just three days after application approval. Begin by applying here.
  • Mid-Size Business Loan Program: As a forthcoming initiative by the Treasury Department, this loan program aims to provide loans to qualifying institutions of 500 to 1,000 employees.
  • Employee Retention Payroll Tax Credit: If your museum doesn’t qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program, this refundable tax credit could offer up to $5,000 for each payrolled employee per quarter. To be eligible, certain criteria must be met including an over 50% loss in revenue and a significant decrease in operations due to COVID-19. Read more.
  • Main Street Business Lending Program: As an initiative by the Treasury Department, this loan program aims to provide $600 billion in loans to qualifying small and mid-sized institutions of 500 to 10,000 employees or whose annual revenue from 2019 was below $2.5 billion.


Through their CARES Act funding, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has created two new emergency granting programs for museums, libraries, and tribal organizations: IMLS CARES Act Grants for Museums and Libraries and IMLS CARES Act Grants for Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum and Library Services.
Combined, the total available funding is $15 million in institutional grants, usable towards retaining and training staff, supporting reopening plans, and purchasing and enhancing current technology, specifically to promote community engagement. These are the key differences between the two programs:

  • IMLS CARES Act Grants for Museums and Libraries: Museums and libraries may apply for grants of $25,000 to $500,000 to support up to two years of operations disrupted by the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • IMLS CARES Act Grants for Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum and Library Services: Cultural institutions that serve and represent Native American and Native Hawaiian communities are eligible to apply for grants of $10,000 to $150,000 to cover up to two years of pandemic-affected operations.

To apply to either IMLS CARES Act grant or learn more, visit the grant application page on the IMLS website.

NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations

Using funding allocated by the CARES Act, the National Endowment for the Humanities formed a designated relief effort, NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations.

To apply before the deadline of May 12, 2020, candidates proposed short-term projects that demonstrated how a grant would ease their financial strain and assist with staff retention and hiring. This emergency fund will provide grants of up to $300,000 to institutions in the humanities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including museums, libraries, and archives. Selected candidates should have started being notified on June 15.

NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund

New York City philanthropists have banded together to form the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund to combat the impact of COVID-19 on local nonprofits – including museums and cultural institutions. Managed by the New York Community Trust, the fund raised $109 million from nearly 1,200 donors, and has nearly completed distribution of more than $72 million in grants from The Trust and $37 million in no-interest loans through the Nonprofit Finance Fund to NYC-based nonprofits.

To qualify for funding, your New York City nonprofit organization needed to have an annual operating budget of $20 million or less, before government funding contracts. Financial support was offered in the form of grants and interest-free loans to cover anything from offsetting revenue losses to purchasing software and services to facilitate remove work.

Visit the Response & Impact Fund’s website to find out more about this emergency coronavirus funding.

The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

Based in New York City, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation has pledged $5 million to support artists and small art organizations. Spread across the next three years, the funding will be the foundation’s most substantial donation towards a single cause since being established in 2013.

For the first distribution round, a total of $1.25 million will be awarded, with $1 million going towards artists and $250,000 to a handful of small New York art organizations, which include Artists Space, Creative Time, Eyebeam, the Kitchen, the Laundromat Project, and White Columns. Additional funding projects will be announced as time rolls forward.

“The art world must galvanize to support both its artists and those that work every day at its museums and cultural institutions,” explained Clifford Ross, the board chairman for the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. “We believe this is the moment to step up.”

The J. Paul Getty Trust

On April 2, 2020, The J. Paul Getty Trust announced its intent to award $15 million in financial relief to Los Angeles artists and arts organizations, as grants of $25,000 to $200,000. Distributed through the California Community Foundation, The Getty’s pandemic initiative includes $10 million allocated specifically for small and mid-sized art institutions in LA, to help cover operating costs and lost revenue.

“This is a critical moment,” said Getty Foundation director, Joan Weinstein, to explain the Trust’s decision to mobilize funds. “We hear almost daily from arts organizations that they will be forced to lay off staff in the coming weeks, and we know that there will likely be no quick or easy ‘on’ switch that returns any of us to previous norms.”

“These organizations provide crucial access to the arts for all Angelenos and deserve the support of everyone in the community.”


The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy

The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy could provide substantial relief to museums across Canada. Belonging to the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the proposed program covers 75% of employee salaries for up to three months, starting retroactively from March 15, 2020.

The goal of this emergency coronavirus funding is to help institutions of all sizes retain and pay their staff. To qualify, an institution must show that their revenue has fallen by at least 30%.

Employers are invited to apply for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy through the Canada Revenue Agency’s online portal.

Canadian Heritage

On April 17, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that Canadian Heritage would be tasked with distributing $500 million in funding through the new COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations.

It was announced on May 8 that the funding would be allocated in two phases, with $53 million going towards museums and heritage institutions during the second phase via the Museums Assistance Program (MAP). Additional relief will be distributed by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canada Media Fund, FACTOR, Musicaction, and Telefilm Canada, among others.

For full details on eligibility and funding delivery, visit the Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations page on the Government of Canada website.

Canada Council for the Arts

To deliver immediate relief to the arts sector, the Canada Council for the Arts intends to provide $60 million in advanced funding. This amount adds up to 35% of its yearly grants awarded to more than 1,100 core-funded institutions.

The Canada Council expects to distribute these grant advances by May 4, 2020. According to a statement on their website, the early funding was deemed necessary for arts organizations to “meet their immediate commitments, help ensure cash flow, and address outstanding payments to the artists and cultural workers they employ.”

During this period of uncertainty for many museums, The Canada Council’s regular granting programs remain operational and open to new applications.

Digital Originals

The Canada Council for the Arts and CBC/Radio-Canada joined forces to launch Digital Originals, an initiative to help artists and arts institutions share their work online.

Micro-innovation grants of $5,000 will be distributed to “develop, create and share new or adapted work for digital dissemination to the Canadian public during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the announcement email. Funding can go towards the online adaptation of new or cancelled exhibitions, performances, screenings, and other arts-related programming.

Full eligibility and application guidelines are available here. It should be noted the Canada Council for the Arts was planning to accept applications until June 15, 2020, or until all the grants have been awarded.

Digital Strategy Fund

From April to July 31, 2020, the Canada Council’s Digital Strategy Fund is accepting applications for short-term projects that enact digital solutions that address the challenges facing Canadian artists and arts institutions during COVID-19. To qualify, proposals must “demonstrate concrete and immediate benefits to the arts community” and “show elements of openness and potential for growth as a long-term strategy.”
Museums may apply for grants of up to $50,000, allocable towards such digital initiatives as creating online collections to showcase their galleries. Applications can be submitted on the Canada Council portal until July 31.

BC Arts Council

As a partnership with The Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture, the BC Arts Council introduced an Arts and Culture Resilience Supplement on March 23, 2020. This one-time supplement will be allocated in early April to Operating Assistance clients and institutions with qualifying projects.

To assist further, Spring and Fall Operating Assistance clients are also slated to receive 50% of their operating grant from last year as an advance. These agency-issued advances are hoped to provide immediate relief and help to stabilize BC arts institutions affected by COVID-19.

The BC government has not ruled out the possibility of future arts and culture initiatives to offset pandemic-related losses.

Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ)

The Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec has processed all 2019-2020 funding applications and will resume processing applications for 2020-2021 as soon as possible. The CALQ has setup a Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page, as well as an FAQ, both of which you are encouraged to access frequently as they are updated regularly.

Conseil des arts de Montréal (CAM)

The Conseil des arts de Montréal has announced it will accelerate the majority of the grants payments planned for 2020. Funding payments totaling $13 million, representing 76% of its 2020 grants, will exceptionally be paid in April. Read the information note for further details.

United Kingdom

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

From March 1, 2020 onwards for a minimum of three months, The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will provide financial support to UK institutions negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Qualifying institutions may file for 80% of furloughed workers’ monthly salaries, along with “the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage,” according to the Government of the United Kingdom website.

For additional information on the program and how to submit a claim, view the complete guidelines.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund

The National Lottery Heritage Fund is rerouting £50 million from its grant programs to create the Heritage Emergency Fund, meant to combat immediate, coronavirus-related financial strain for the next three to six months in the UK’s heritage sector.

Grants of £3,000 and £50,000 will be allocated to an array of historical and cultural institutions, including museums, libraries, and archives. To apply for support, an institution must be a past or current grantee of The Heritage Fund, with little to no access to additional financial backing. Organizations facing a “severe financial crisis due to COVID-19” will be prioritized, according to the stated regulations.

In order to sustain this initiative, The Heritage Fund has paused their existing grant program. However, UK institutions currently receiving support will not be affected, and are still eligible to apply for this emergency coronavirus funding.

Arts Council England

To support England’s culture sector during COVID-19, Arts Council England plans to distribute £160 million of relief funding. Allocated between National Portfolio Organizations (NPOs), non-NPO organizations, and individual artists, the fund aims to protect museums, libraries, and other institutions promoting the arts.

In order to cover loss of income and urgent operational costs, £90 million has been set aside for NPOs, while £50 million is available to arts institutions that aren’t currently receiving funding from the Arts Council.

Candidates can submit applications during two granting periods, running from April 9 to 16 and April 16 to 30, 2020, respectively. Future relief campaigns have not been announced by the Arts Council, so qualifying UK museums are advised to apply immediately.

Museum Galleries Scotland

Museum Galleries Scotland, with funding from the Scottish Government, is allocating £700,000 in emergency relief to museums and galleries through the Urgent Response COVID-19 Fund. Their other initiative, the Digital Resilience COVID-19 Fund, has made £55,000 available to institutions wanting to purchase equipment that enables teleworking or software to publish their collections online.

Applications for either fund can be submitted using the Museum Galleries Scotland portal. Qualifying museums are eligible for up £60,000 to cover a 3-month income loss and up to £3,000 for equipment and software expenses.

The Cultural Resilience Fund (Wales)

The Welsh Government has launched The Cultural Resilience Fund, a £18 million relief initiative to support the cultural and athletic sectors in Wales. Out of this short-term fund, £1 million has been set aside specifically for museums, archives, libraries, and other heritage institutions facing immediate losses.

Welsh museums interested in applying for funding may submit a 200-word statement detailing their needs. Further information is available on the Government’s website.

The Organisations Emergency Programme (Northern Ireland)

Northern Ireland’s Department of Communities pledged £1 million to arts organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic on April 27, 2020, as part of their new Creative Support Fund, which will also provide £500,000 in grants to artists.

Opening for applications this May, the Organisations Emergency Programme will start by distributing the first £500,000 to small and mid-sized institutions. The second half of the funding will become available once the situation has been further assessed.

Application information and forms will be released on the Arts Council of Northern Ireland website in the coming days.

Partnering with Gallery Systems

Every Gallery Systems team member is committed to supporting our clients by providing non-stop software access, full support services, and relevant resources such as this guide. We are proud to be part of your business continuity plan and take this responsibility seriously. If you need assistance in going remote with your museum workflow, don’t hesitate to contact us; our museum software experts will provide you with all the information you need.

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