Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is one of the most – if not the most – important funders of the humanities in the U.S., with millions each year supporting everything from general research grants for higher level scholars, to scholarly communication, fellowships, IT projects, and art history and conservation programs. The foundation also has a robust arts grants program that supports higher ed visual arts, music, theater and dance programs, and has shown a strong commitment to international higher ed as well as diversity in U.S. colleges and universities.

IP TAKE: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a massive organization, which can make navigating their programs difficult for first-time grant-seekers. But with the support Mellon has been awarding universities in the past few years, it won't hurt for fundraisers to reach out to program staff.

PROFILE: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation “endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies.” The foundation focuses almost exclusively on the humanities, including art conservation, the performing arts, linguistics, and just about everything in between. Two other key priorities are international higher education and promoting diversity in U.S. academia.

For humanities scholars, the foundation’s Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities program is a good place to start. Some grants in the program support higher level scholars (i.e. doctoral candidates, postdoctoral researchers, and university faculty) as well as curriculum development. Mellon also provides competitive fellowships such as the the New Directions Fellowships and the Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures, which are managed by foundation staff. Mellon also sponsors fellowships administered by scholarly societies such as the American Council of Learned Societies. 

The foundation’s Scholarly Communications program is a signature humanities program as well. Its broad goal is to help “research libraries, archives, museums, universities, presses, and arts organizations” in order to “expand and equalize access to cultural and scholarly resources across sectors of society.”

Another important program is the Art and Cultural Heritage program, which has three subprograms: Intersections of Performing and Visual ArtsPerforming Arts, and Art History, Conservation, and Museums. Each of these sub-programs in turn has its own particular focus areas. This program is a significant source for both arts and humanities grants. The foundation often supports grantees with endowments for work such as art conservation programs.

Though not tied to humanities or the arts specifically, it is essential to mention that Mellon also has a program dedicated to increasing diversity in academia through a combination of undergraduate fellowships, funding for historically black colleges and universities as well as tribal colleges and universities, and a more general interest in "diversity initiatives." Along these lines, Mellon recently committed more than $5 million over five years to a program at the University of Pennsylvania called Pathways to the Professorate, which seeks to increase the number of Latinos earning Ph.D.'s.

Lastly, through its International Higher Education program, Mellon also supports work in which a "commitment to the humanities, the arts, and higher education could contribute to stabilizing fragile democracies, and create favorable conditions for their participation in global networks of research and culture." For the moment, this program is only open to organizations that have an existing relationship with the foundation, but it is still in the early stage of development, so keep an eye out for possible expansion.

Mellon’s grants have historically been large, multi-year awards, often in the higher six figures but sometimes topping $1 million. A look at past grantees shows a number of prestigious schools, yet funding has also been allocated large state schools and lesser known higher ed institutions.

For first-time grantseekers feeling overwhelmed by the variety and scope of possible funding streams, the foundation says “prospective and current grantees should not hesitate to contact Foundation program staff or the Office of the Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary with any questions.” A letter of inquiry explaining your project is the first formal step; if you’re invited to submit a full proposal, the foundation notes that you should “be prepared to work closely with program staff in refining the proposal, often through multiple drafts.” Once your proposal has been submitted, a final determination will be made by the Board of Trustees at a quarterly meeting, usually in March, June, September, or December.

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