Site Preservation, Conservation, and Museum Enhancement Program (SPCME)

 Site Preservation Conservation and Museum Enhancement Pogram (2009-2014)


by Emil Nankov (ARCS)

Designed in collaboration with the Field Museum in Chicago, SPCME grew to be one of the most popular programs developed by ARCS since 2009. In principle, the program funds projects that concern archaeological sites and museum collections in Bulgaria, fostering the development of Bulgarian economy and cultural tourism, in particular.  Specifically, the program encourages site preservation, artifact restoration, museum exhibitions, and infrastructural enhancement, with an emphasis on projects that have a strong community outreach, educational and innovative components. 

Being the only grant program within the ARCS portfolio since its establishment in 2009, the SPCME presented both a great challenge and a tremendous opportunity. During 2009-2014 ARCS received 47 project proposals (3 [2010], 4 [2011], 14 [2012], 14 [2013], 12 [2014]) from staff members employed in Bulgarian museums, research institutes and universities, of which the annual screening process, conducted in conjunction with the Field Museum in Chicago, recommended for funding 18 projects. To date, ARCS has been able to implement all, with the most recent five completed by the end of 2015. The total cost of the funded projects was $690,127 distributed among eight regional museums of history (Veliko Tarnovo, Ruse, Silistra, Varna, Pernik, Stara Zagora, Shumen, six municipal museums (Sredets, Kazanlak, Balchik, Septemvri, Sandanski and Pavlikeni) and the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The program began in 2010 with two pilot projects for site preservation of two major archaeological sites, the Roman towns of Nicopolis ad Istrum (RHM-Veliko Tarnovo) and Deultum (HM-Sredets), which proved to be very successful. In addition to undertaking preservation measures on the ground, the project leaders, very much acting at the instigation of ARCS staff, improved the infrastructure around the sites to increase their visibility on local and trans-regional level. Since 2011 the program was presented as an annual competition before the entire archaeological community in Bulgaria. Although by design potential grantees could be research institutes and universities, the real driving force behind project proposals, quite understandably so, turned out to be the museums. Having a long and distinguished history, Bulgaria boasts a great number of museums of history and archaeology administered through a network of state employees, majority of whom have degrees in archaeology. All archaeological sites are state property, which means that their upkeep is often delegated to local municipalities and affiliated museums. Because of economic stagnation during the last 20 years, many sites and museum collections have been neglected, with their potential for economic growth now being gradually realized, to a great extent due to the increasing number of funding opportunities for site preservation and museum enhancement.

One of the reasons why the SPCME managed to take root in Bulgaria is the condition that it identified ideas for development and visionaries among the museum staff, often digging on archaeological sites, rather than state officials in municipalities. The bottom-up approach has certain advantages because success hinges on the professionalism and genuine ideas of the specialists on local level, which SPCME has been able to channel through rather simple application, funding and oversight procedures, rather than on hasty decisions of city councils trying to tap into more lucrative options, such as the European Union programs for regional development (2007-2013). The implementation of such big projects, with budgets ranging up to millions of Euros, has sometimes led to dubious results (e.g. recent restoration of the Medieval fortress Krakra in Pernik), often leaving the impression of poor coordination between institutions, significant project delays, lack of professionalism, even misuse of funds.

On the other hand, as ARCS results demonstrate, an important feature of the SPCME program is greater sustainability because higher motivation is prompted by smaller grants or, as we call them, “seed money.” SPCME grants, up to $50,000, are normally implemented within 18 months but successful projects continue to produce important results even after their completion, which is essential in the long run. A frequent outcome is the need of permanent new hires in museums, predominantly young scholars, as was the case with the museums in Sredets, Pavlikeni and Varna, whose tasks were to assist in the management of newly acquired resources, educate visitors, teach didactic modules, even conduct new archaeological excavations. Another result had to do with increased public exposure of archaeological sites, which subsequently led to a bigger investment on the part of the state in its infrastructure. Outstanding examples are Nicopolis ad Istrum and Deultum which received significant support for improvement of their facilities through funding from the Ministry of Culture soon after ARCS grants were completed. A third benefit for museums was the ability to organize educational programs for schoolchildren. Such measures were implemented with great success by the museums in Varna and Ruse, now serving as models for colleagues in other museums. Several sites like Nicopolis ad Istrum, Deultum, along with museums, such as Ruse, Silistra, Balchik and Septemvri, have witnessed a significant increase of numbers of visitors because of renovation of exhibit halls, the production of site guides, leaflets and movie documentaries. Attracting greater public requires maintaining good standards and proactive museum workers. Because of the vitality of SPCME, which essentially provides a competitive venue for different ideas nationwide, increased interaction and peer pressure can be observed among applicants.  A contributing factor is the setting up of annual reports at ARCS, which brings together project directors to present their results in front of an audience of their peers. Ultimately their success inspired future projects.

ARCS hopes to continue serving its mission in the future by providing more opportunities for turning cultural heritage into a steady resource for economic growth. At the same time, by bringing spotlight on sites and museums, we also increase the visibility of Bulgarian archaeological heritage abroad, which among other things create better conditions for an increased interest in Bulgaria among scholars based in North America.

For full reports of each SPCME project, uploaded as a pdf presentation, please visit us at:



Site Preservation, Conservation, and Museum Enhancement Program (SPCME)





Online application portal: Please refer to the tutorial at the bottom of the page to help you through the online application process. The submission deadline is December 1, 2013.   

Program Description

The SPCME program encourages site preservation, artifact restoration, museum exhibitions, and infrastructural enhancement, including the development of on-line digital catalogues of museum collections. This program funds projects that concern archaeological sites and museum collections in Bulgaria that have suffered from long periods of neglect and are in dire need of restoration. We welcome proposals that stimulate the development of cultural tourism and the Bulgarian economy and encourage proposals that have strong community outreach, educational and innovative components. This grant is financed by the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

Requests for funding must be in US dollars and should not, under normal circumstances, exceed $50,000 for one year. It is possible to reapply for this funding in subsequent years. ARCS requires cost-sharing on the part of the local institution, which can be raised through municipality and state budgets, regional development programs, local donations, or in-kind support. The amount of cost-sharing is negotiable, but proposals for which at least 10% of the cost is borne by the applicant's home institution have a higher chance of being funded. This program does not provide funds to support research expenses incurred before the date of a grant, or general activities of other institutions or entities, including "overhead expenses" or "indirect costs.”

Eligibility Requirements 

At the time of application submission, applicants must meet the following eligibility requirements: 

  • The Bulgarian applicant must have a master’s or doctoral degree.
  • The Bulgarian applicant must hold a permanent position in a Bulgarian research institute, museum, or university

Applications should be made through an institution to which the grant can be awarded, and which will assume financial oversight of the award. Applicants may submit more than one application per funding season. 

Reporting Requirements

Acceptance of funding carries an obligation to provide reports on project accomplishments, as well as an account of the expenditure of grant funds. No renewal applications will be accepted for review without the inclusion of progress and financial reports. ARCS requires monthly reports of spending for all projects awarded funding and quarterly narrative reports on the progress of the project. The Bulgarian institution receiving the funds will be responsible for financial oversight and monthly reports. The staff of ARCS will act as the American institution responsible for the oversight of spending. All projects funded through this program are required to acknowledge ARCS and ABF in presentations and publications that derive from the research.