[This program is currently suspended.]

Critical Issues Project Award 2021-22

The Humanities for the Public Good Initiative invites applications for funding of collaborative projects that engage the public using humanistic methods and content, under the theme of Belonging. Project teams must include a team member with a faculty appointment (of any rank) in a humanities field listed below, as well as a campus partner beyond their department, and a community partner representing an interest beyond the campus.

In this cycle, awards will be given out on a rolling basis according to demonstrated need and ability to allocate all funding in a timely manner. The Critical Issues Project Fund committee welcomes a range of requests from small to mid-size projects and hopes to fund a variety depending somewhat on the shape of the applicant pool and the available funding. 

Preference will be given to outstanding project plans to apply the research methodologies and creative potentialities of humanities and fine arts disciplines to produce demonstrable public impact by contributing to public knowledge, strengthening community bonds, contributing to institutional self-understanding of cultural meaning-making organizations beyond the academy, or producing ethical relationships between students, texts and artifacts, and the material world and peoples to which the texts and artifacts connect–with the understanding that this list of outcomes is suggestive rather than comprehensive.

All Critical Issues Project Funding must be spent by June 15, 2022.  


This year’s projects will again be expected to share a focus on “Belonging,” engaging with the ways people, ideas, and/or spaces welcome or exclude. Communities, and topics of associated interest relevant to this theme, include: racial justice and cultural identity; immigrants, migrants, and peoples in diaspora; resource gaps, access to public and private services; incarceration, policing and governance; social mobility and social bridging; and technology and the circulation of ideas and resources in digital forms. This list represents some possible approaches to the theme, but we encourage applicants to consider “Belonging” broadly and to engage the theme across disciplines and methodologies. Please direct any questions about this year’s theme or applicable projects to Director, Ashley Melzer at amelzer@unc.edu.

Previously funded projects are eligible to be considered for additional funding.

Eligibility & Collaboration

Supported projects will involve collaborative teams which consist of:

  • *a practicing humanist (or humanistic social scientist) with a faculty appointment in the College of Arts & Sciences, of any rank AND/OR an on-campus partner that connects the project to a wider campus-based community (this partner may include fellow humanistic faculty; faculty in other divisions; faculty or staff in professional schools, centers, institutes, and programs; staff or faculty in library, museum, or other University units)
  • an off-campus partner (individual or institutional) which represents a public interest beyond the University’s
  • Selection criteria privilege ethical project planning, which inclusively consults with all team members in a more than pro forma way. The “Ethical Collaboration” statement in the application asks collaborators to produce project plans through in-person (or virtual) exchanges, and to avoid asking for library and staff members to sign on at the last minute.
  • Finally, projects are expected to contain evaluation plans which reflect democratic modes of engagement and genuine interest in understanding the social impact of the project. Building evaluation plans into these projects will help researchers to understand the needs of the public with which they work; and to produce feedback and evidence which will allow scholars on the project team to write up their work in conventional or emerging scholarly platforms, if they choose. The selection committee will favor projects which can demonstrate an aspect of their social impact concretely.

Please note that if larger the award level is pursued, the higher the expectations will be for application components including the content of the ethical collaboration statement and the plan for evaluation.

Examples of possible projects include: curated exhibitions (digital exhibits, highway markers, museum/library/gallery exhibitions, pop-up exhibits); seminar programming (conversation and discussion, workshops, speaker series); creative or performance programming (art-making, music or theater performance, slam poetry events, or other literary readings); or building cultural infrastructure (public art, memorials, monuments, archives, capacity in community organizations); teaching activities which advance the work of public-facing entities such as schools, libraries, community colleges; and participatory research that originates in the arts, humanities, or qualitative social sciences. Funding is available for the logistical work and convenings which precede the final output of the collaboration, for those projects at the initiation or pre-planning stage at the time of application. The above examples should not be taken to be comprehensive of the range of possible projects. Projects may also be productively linked with graduate-level or undergraduate classroom activities.

Applicants are welcome to consider the list of the Critical Issues Project Fund awardees.

Budgeting and Funding

Funds may be used to compensate team members (including faculty, staff, graduate students, and community partners) for their time, where those salary supplements and award vouchers are implementable from the perspective of the home campus unit, or where the community partner can pass independent contractor background checks; for travel; for costs associated with meetings and programs; and for non-infrastructural material resources which benefit the project, but which are not already available through the University, and which will not ultimately be the property of the University.

** Note that funding cannot be applied to graduate student tuition. Questions about the feasibility of including particular items in a budget proposal may be addressed to Ashley Melzer (amelzer@unc.edu).

Application Components

All application components should be input via the online form. A completed application includes:

  • proposed project title
  • list of collaborators and primary contact
  • administrative finance contact
  • projected dates of project start and completion
  • project narrative:
    • outlines the overall project, its impetus or background and its potential scope and impact
    • explains the project’s connection to the theme of “Belonging”
    • describes collaborative team members’ qualifications and roles
    • describes qualitative and quantitative measures for assessing the project
  • Optional additional documents, including a proposed budget for the project
  • Ethical collaboration attestation


Applications open on a rolling basis and will be reviewed by HPG stakeholders in a timely matter (no more than one month from submission).  If technical difficulties with the form occur, please contact the HPG Initiative Director.

Further Information

Application queries may be addressed directly to HPG Initiative Director Ashley Melzer at <amelzer@unc.edu>. She is available for application consultations in support of prospective projects, by phone, email, or for short virtual meetings.

*Humanities and humanistic social science departments, for the purpose of eligibility in this grant, include African, African American, and Diaspora Studies; American Studies; Asian Studies; Anthropology; Art & Art History; Classics; Communication; Dramatic Art; English & Comparative Literature; Geography; Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures; History; Linguistics; Music; Philosophy; Religious Studies; Romance Studies; and Women & Gender Studies. Automatically eligible faculty will have teaching positions in one of those departments, or in a program affiliated with one of those departments. 

Social scientists using humanistic methods, who have faculty appointments within the College of Arts & Sciences, working outside the departments identified above, may be eligible to serve as faculty team members of Critical Issues Project Fund applications with special dispensation of the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative. Please write to Ashley Melzer (email address above) for eligibility determinations.

** Examples of unfundable budget items include computers and other electronic devices that the university might reasonably be expected to own; graduate or undergraduate student tuition; and alcohol, at events on campus at which some attendees may be under 21.