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Results Released: Independent Review of Museums for America

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MFAEval ExecSummary
Friday, September 23, 2011


IMLS Press Contacts
Natasha Marstiller,
Mamie Bittner,

Independent Study Evaluates the IMLS Museums for America Grants Program

Washington, DC—The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) today released the results of a study conducted by RMC Research Corporation, "Supporting Museums – Serving Communities: An Evaluation of the Museums for America Program".

"MFA has helped hundreds of museums provide transformational learning experiences, care for important collections and create partnerships that strengthen communities," said Susan Hildreth, IMLS Director. "We are pleased that the results show that MFA has had an immediate and sustained impact on applicants and grantees."

The two-year study looked at the program's efficacy in serving the museum community and the impact of the MFA program and MFA-funded projects. RMC's analysis drew on IMLS administrative data from applications and awards, responses to an online survey administered by RMC to a subset of MFA applicants and grant recipients, interviews with representatives of 26 completed exemplary projects, and site visits to six of those 26 museums. Click here to view the case study videos and other supporting materials.

Museums for America (MFA) is the largest IMLS grant program for museums; it supports institutions by investing in high-priority, high-value activities that are clearly linked to the institution's strategic plan and enhance its value to its community. This evaluation covers the first year (2004) of the Museums for America grant program through 2010. During that period, IMLS received 3,404 MFA applications from 1,817 eligible museums, awarding 1,191 grants to 830 museums, a total of $123 million in funding.

MFA applicants and grantees are a diverse pool of institutions in size, type and geographic distribution, and projects completed by MFA grantees have far reaching impacts on organizational capacity, collections management and above all community engagement. All types of museums, large and small, are eligible for IMLS funding, including aquariums, arboretums and botanical gardens, art museums, youth museums, general museums, historic houses and sites, history museums, nature centers, natural history and anthropology museums, planetariums, science and technology centers, specialized museums, and zoological parks.

"Using program evaluations to examine outcomes and goals is a key element to achieving IMLS's long-term objectives," said Hildreth. ‘The evaluation will not only direct the agency in improving the MFA program from the application process to documenting long term impacts of funded projects, it will also inform the agency's work in implementing our new strategic plan."

Grantees identified the MFA program as unique in its approach to supporting US museums. The research will enable the agency to analyze trends, assess the impact of the MFA program funds in helping museums carry out their public service role, and check the alignment of grant activities with the authority provided by the Museum Services Act, which guides the development of all IMLS programs.

Key Findings:

Grantees reported strengthening their institutional capacity with the MFA grants.

Organizational Capacity Effects
Among grantees reporting institutional capacity effects (n=464):

  • 81% helped institution fulfill its mission
  • 80% strengthened museum's public image
  • 67% increased ability to attract outside funding
  • 64% increased visibility of institution as a center of community learning
  • 59% raised institution's prestige in the community
  • 45% improved staff cohesion and commitment to mission

RMC also identified several other measureable benefits including the following:

Audience Effects
93% of surveyed projects served public audiences. Of these (n=442):

  • 73% reached new audiences
  • 64% increased commitment by existing audiences
  • 46% increased audience access

The entire report can be downloaded as a PDF on the IMLS website,

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit

Museums for America