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Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections

Division of Preservation and Access

Receipt Deadline December 13, 2016 for Projects Beginning October 2017

Brief Summary

Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections (SCHC) helps cultural institutions meet the complex challenge of preserving large and diverse holdings of humanities materials for future generations by supporting sustainable conservation measures that mitigate deterioration, prolong the useful life of collections, and support institutional resilience: the ability to anticipate and respond to natural and man-made disasters.

Libraries, archives, museums, and historical organizations across the country face an enormous challenge: to preserve collections that facilitate research, strengthen teaching, and provide opportunities for life-long learning in the humanities. Ensuring the preservation of books and manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings and moving images, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, art, and historical objects requires institutions to implement measures that slow deterioration and prevent catastrophic loss from natural or man-made emergencies. This work is best accomplished through preventive conservation, which encompasses managing relative humidity, temperature, light, and pollutants in collection spaces; providing protective storage enclosures and systems for collections; and safeguarding collections from theft, fire, floods, and other disasters.

As museums, libraries, archives, and other collecting institutions strive to be effective stewards of humanities collections, they must find ways to implement preventive conservation measures that are sustainable. This program therefore helps cultural repositories plan and implement preservation strategies that pragmatically balance effectiveness, cost, and environmental impact. Sustainable approaches to preservation can contribute to an institution’s financial health, reduce its use of fossil fuels, and benefit its green initiatives, while ensuring that collections are well cared for and available for use in humanities programming, education, and research. Sustainable preventive conservation measures may also aim to prepare and plan for, absorb, respond to, recover from, and more successfully protect collections in the event of natural or man-made disasters.

All applicants, whether applying for planning or implementation projects, must clearly address sustainable preventive conservation strategies in their application narratives. Sustainable preservation strategies can take many forms, depending on the nature of an institution and its collections, its building, and the local climate. However, interdisciplinary collaboration during planning and implementation of these strategies is essential. In SCHC projects, such teams typically consist of consultants and members of the institution’s staff and can include architects, building engineers, conservation scientists, conservators, curators, archivists, and facilities managers, among others.

Program Statistics

In the last five competitions the Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections received an average of 71 applications per year. The program made an average of 16 awards per year, for a funding ratio of 23 percent.

The number of applications to an NEH grant program can vary widely year to year, as can the funding ratio. Information about the average number of applications and awards in recent competitions is meant only to provide historical context for the current competition. Information on the number of applications and awards in individual competitions is available from


Contact the staff of NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access at  and 202-606-8570.

Guidelines Resources

Download Application Materials

Budget Resources

Program Resources

Sample Application Narratives