Henry Luce Foundation: Grants for College Arts and Humanities

OVERVIEW: The Luce Foundation's mission is centered on concerns regarding American ideals, internationalism, and "innovation and leadership." Major humanities funding mostly comes from its American Art, Asia, and Religion in International Affairs focus areas. Higher ed support is also available through other program areas, but those grants are generally either fewer in number or directed at fields outside the humanities.

IP TAKE: With its wide range of humanities programs, earning Luce grants is largely a matter of understanding which program connects best with your project. Be sure to contact program staff before submitting a letter of inquiry.

PROFILE: The Luce Foundation was started in 1936 by Time magazine co-founder Henry R. Luce, and “seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.”

University fundraisers exploring Luce Foundation grants should have an understanding of the lay of the land. There are many different programs with diverse goals and missions, and colleges and universities have fared particularly well at the foundation. Earning Luce grants is just a matter of understanding which programs might benefit your project.

Here’s a brief overview of three of the most common arts adn humanities grant programs for college and university scholars.

Luce’s American Art program supports exhibitions, research and publications on the subject. A main focus is “scholarly study of painting, sculpture, prints, drawings, decorative arts, photography, and architecture.” In the past, universities have received Luce funding for exhibitions at campus museums, and scholars have received support for dissertation research. The emphasis here is on the visual arts; programs excluded from support include “film or broadcast media” as well as those “that are predominantly historical, social, documentary, technological, or that concern private collections.”

The foundation’s Asia program has a two-pronged strategy: supporting “cultural and intellectual exchange between the United States and the countries of East and Southeast Asia,” and “creating scholarly and public resources for improved understanding of Asia in the United States.” Occasional funding is also available to “respond to needs...identified by scholars and institutions” for scholarly “programs and projects concerning the countries and cultures of Northeast and Southeast Asia,” as well as through special initiatives. 

Lastly, the Religion in International Affairs program has consistently focused on colleges and universities (along with media and policy groups), with a mission to “deepen understanding of religion as a critical but often neglected dimension of national and international policies and politics.” Grants here have supported conferences at colleges that align with that mission. Research that is international and collaborative, multidisciplinary, and/or comparative is also supported.

These three programs are the major players for higher education institutions, but they aren’t the only option for university fundraisers, since Luce’s Higher Education program supports projects that fall outside of their core funding areas. This leaves room for a lot of different projects, but it’s not a major focus, and relatively limited number of grants are awarded each year.  

There are a few other programs at the foundation that support colleges, universities, and individual scholars, but traditionally the focus hasn’t been on the humanities (or at least not exclusively). For instance, the Clare Booth Luce program supports women scholars in STEM fields. Similarly, the Luce Scholars program provides “young leaders” who have an interest in Asia but little to no experience in the region with “stipends, language training, and individualized professional placement in Asia,” but this program is open to applicants from all academic disciplines.

For those looking for more information about specific grantees, your best bet is to review award announcements, which can frequently be found on its grant announcements page or the "recent awards" section of a particular program.

To get the ball rolling on your application, the foundation says that “prospective grantees often begin the process with an email or phone call to the director of the appropriate program.” The program director may then request a letter of inquiry, which can be submitted year-round for the Asia, Higher Education, and International Affairs programs (note that the Clare Booth Luce, Luce Scholars, and American Art programs have their own application processes and deadlines). A follow-up is suggested if you have not received a response six weeks after sending in your LOI, which will be reviewed to determine whether you will be invited to submit a full proposal. 

Awards under $50,000 are decided by the foundation’s president after review and recommendation by the program director and a “panel of outside experts." Grants above that amount are recommended by the program director to the president and the Board, the latter being responsible for making the final decision. 


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