How Applications are Evaluated

The Council uses a multi-step process involving program staff, peer review panels, a committee of Council members, and the full Council. Below are the main elements of the process.

Review Process

Staff Review

Staff verify applicant eligibility and review applications according to the Council's primary criteria: Service/Outreach to the Public, Artistic/Programmatic Merit, and Managerial/Fiscal Competence (see below). Each applicant is also reviewed according to program and category guidelines.

Staff may meet with representatives of the applying organization, visit their facilities, and attend programs to become familiar with the organization and its work.

Peer Review Panels

In each program category, the peer panel convenes with program staff present. The panel is composed of at least seven people and represents a diverse group of professionals from across the State. Each member has relevant and specific expertise. NYSCA accepts nominations for panelists from the general public. To nominate an individual for panel service consideration, please fill out the panelist form.

The panel ratings form the basis for staff funding recommendations to the designated Council Committee.

Primary Criteria

The Council, program staff and panelists use three categories to evaluate applicants.

Service/Outreach to the Public

As a public funder, NYSCA must ensure that its grants support a broad array of cultural activity that fully represents the diversity of the state. Successful applicants will create programs accessible to the broadest possible public and comply with public safety and accessibility laws. Applicants will be evaluated for:

  • Promotion and Outreach: Demonstrating significant efforts to reach a broad and diverse audience through marketing and public relations efforts.

  • Audience Development: Offering thoughtful and well-designed educational and interpretive activities that help build audience appreciation and understanding of the organization and its work.

  • Audience/Visitor Participation: Providing attendance data (relevant to the population of the community served) as well as customer satisfaction surveys (if available and appropriate).

  • Safety & Accessibility: Utilizing venues that are fully accessible to the public and comply with all safety and accessibility standards.

  • Diversity of Programming: Reflecting significant efforts to reach a broad array of artists and audiences.

  • Community Service: Bringing value to its community through partnerships with local businesses and schools, free and low-cost events, and in other appropriate ways.

Artistic/Programmatic Merit

NYSCA believes in artistic merit without boundaries, and our evaluation process embraces the widest variety of cultural and artistic expression being offered to the public in a broad array of settings and contexts, including classrooms and community centers, parks, open spaces, and traditional venues. Applicants will be evaluated for:

  • Idea: The concept or artistic impetus behind the artistic work or services proposed.

  • Practice: The effectiveness of the artistic work and the impact it has on those experiencing it, or in the case of services, the effectiveness of the services in practice and their impact on the community served.

  • Development: The contribution the artistic work makes to the development of the artists involved, the art form, and the arts generally, or for services, the contribution the services make to the development of a vibrant arts and cultural community in the state.

  • Context: The context in which the work or services are being presented and the appropriateness of the work or services in that context.

Managerial/Fiscal Competence

As part of the review process, NYSCA reviews submitted materials and publicly-available documents to ensure that funded organizations will be ethical and effective stewards of granted public funds. NYSCA considers three dimensions of managerial and fiscal competence when evaluating applicant organizations:

Governance: The organization should have a diverse board of directors or trustees that provides oversight for the organization, including by:

  • Adopting enabling documents, including a mission statement that relates directly to the organization's activities and defines its core values, functions and purpose.
  • Developing and overseeing the budget and board and executive performance.
  • Maintaining accountability by upholding legal standards and ethical norms.
  • Maintaining and enforcing a conflict of interest policy ensuring that transactions with related parties are reasonable and approved by independent persons in compliance with law.
  • Monitoring and strengthening the organization’s core programs and services.

Organizational Management: Organizational management will be assessed based on the extent to which the leaders of the organization comprehend their role and advance the mission. Responsible management includes:

  • Existence of a qualified staff appropriate to the size and mission of the organization.
  • Appropriate compensation of artists.
  • Development and implementation, under the oversight of the board, of a strategic or annual plan to monitor financial conditions while fulfilling program activities.

Financial Management: The organization will be evaluated based on whether it provides adequate financial management, including developing and maintaining:

  • Adequate financial resources for operating costs, cash reserve, short and long-term capital needs and endowment.
  • A balanced and realistic operating budget which includes contingencies, contains realistic projections of revenues and expenses, and is overseen by the board; a deficit reduction plan for any accumulated deficits
  • Annual reports of financial condition and activities, prepared under the oversight of the board and in accordance with New York law.
  • Internal financial processes, including handling of checks, expense reimbursement, cash disbursements, and payroll management, in order to prevent errors and misuse of funds.

In evaluating all of the criteria, NYSCA considers the following as the circumstances may require:

  • Educational Impact: The nature and extent of the applicant’s planned efforts to educate and orient the public about the proposed project or activities of an organization.
  • Geographic Location: The scarcity or availability of comparable services or activities in the geographic region in which proposed services or activities will take place.
  • Funding Availability: The nature and extent of the availability of other public and private funds to support comparable activities.

Rating System

The panel’s review system is based on scores from Poor (1) to Exceptional (9). Any application that scores below a three (3) in any one of the criteria areas will be ineligible for funding regardless of how well they scored in the other criteria areas.






Exceptionally strong (model and standard for field or discipline with essentially no weaknesses)



Extremely strong with negligible weaknesses



Very strong with some minor weaknesses


Very Good

Strong with numerous minor weaknesses



Strong but with at least one moderate weakness



Some strengths but with some moderate weaknesses



Some strengths but with at least one major weakness



A few strengths and a few major weaknesses




“Weaknesses” are defined as follows:

Negligible: A weakness that if improved could create a greater impact but does not lessen impact
Minor: An easily addressable weakness that does not substantially lessen impact.
Moderate: A weakness that lessens impact.
Major: A weakness that severely limits impact.

Council Committees and the Council

There are two committees composed of Council Members: (1) Multi-Arts and (2) Performing, Literary Arts and Visual Arts. Funding recommendations and panel ratings are presented to the designated Committee for review and discussion.

After review and discussion, the Committees make funding recommendations to the full Council. All Council Committee meetings and Council meetings are open to the public. The Council’s meeting agenda is posted on the NYSCA website in advance of all meetings.  

The full Council reviews the Council Committees’ funding recommendations and votes on the grant award recommendations. Upon Council approval of a grant and subsequent grantee notification, Cultural Service Contracts are issued to the organizations awarded funding.

Panel Feedback

Applicants to NYSCA may contact Program Staff to receive panel feedback at any time following funding decisions.


An applicant may appeal the Council's funding decision. The appeals procedure is set forth in Part 6401 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations. Review the appeals rules for more information.


The Freedom of Information Law, N.Y. Public Officers Law §§ 84–90, grants the right of access to many public documents, including those of the Council on the Arts.

Pursuant to New York’s Open Meetings Law, N.Y. Public Officers Law §§ 100–111, meetings of the Council on the Arts are open to the public and are announced in advance.