City of Bridgeport and National Endowment for the Arts
Bridgeport, CT -- Bridgeport continued its Big Read celebration of Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird with a special event today at the Barnum Museum. The highlight of the program was an appearance by Mrs. Laura Bush, honorary chair of the Big Read.
"The Big Read unifies communities such as Bridgeport, Norwalk, Shelton and Stamford through the power of literature," said Mrs. Bush. "I am pleased to be part of a program that celebrates the joys of reading. Our country's literary classics help to define us as a nation, and bring people of many backgrounds together by expressing our shared ideals," said Mrs. Bush.
The Big Read is an NEA initiative designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. In partnership with the cities of Norwalk, Shelton, and Stamford, Bridgeport was one of 72 communities to receive a grant to hold a Big Read program in the first half of 2007. Locally, the Big Read is sponsored by the Greater Bridgeport Area Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Over the course of six weeks, Bridgeport's Big Read events will include live readings of the novel, book discussions, poetry and memoir workshops, art exhibitions, and theater presentations, among others.
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Dana Gioia and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Director Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice also took part in the event. IMLS is the NEA's lead federal partner for the Big Read.
"I am astounded at the breadth of activities that our Big Read communities nationwide -- including Bridgeport, Shelton, Norwalk, and Stamford -- have developed in order to build enthusiasm for reading these great books. It goes to show how deeply reading can affect our imaginations and make us connect with our communities," said Chairman Gioia. "Having Mrs. Bush join us as our honorary chair in this effort is just terrific. Her love and enthusiasm for such a wide range of great literature is inspiring."
"The Institute of Museum and Library Services is proud to be part of the Big Read program, which is energizing a love of reading literature throughout the country," said Dr. Radice. "Reading is fundamental to learning and lifelong learning is the key to success in the twenty-first century and important for our democracy."
Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi and U.S. Representative Christopher Shays (Connecticut-4th District) also participated.
"As a former teacher, I am thrilled that Bridgeport is joining so many other communities, both in Connecticut and across the country, that are making reading a priority through the NEA's Big Read initiative," said Mayor Fabrizi. "To Kill A Mockingbird is not only a great read, it challenges people to examine the timeless issues of tolerance and justice. On behalf of the Southwestern Connecticut Collaborative, we thank the NEA and Congressman Shays for providing the funding to make this celebration of reading and great literature possible."
Congressman Shays, who is Co-Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus, said, "The Big Read will bring together young and old from diverse backgrounds to read Harper Lee's great novel, celebrating literature and encouraging reading amongst all ages. A recent NEA study found that literary reading is on the decline nationwide, and the rate of decline has accelerated, particularly amongst our youth. I congratulate our cities of Bridgeport, Norwalk, Shelton, and Stamford for collaborating and successfully securing a $40,000 Big Read grant -- the largest possible award -- to help counteract this measurable decline in reading."
After opening remarks by Mayor Fabrizi, attendees viewed a video montage of Bridgeport's Big Read activities, introduced by Barnum Museum Executive Director and Curator Kathy Maher, and a scene from Center Stage's theatrical adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, introduced by Congressman Shays. Harper Lee biographer Charles Shields, Central High School english teacher Caroline Axt, and Dr. Radice joined Mrs. Bush and Chairman Gioia for a panel discussion on the novel.
Mrs. Bush also announced that Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will be one of the nine novels added to the Big Read library for 2008. The names of the additional eight books will be announced on April 19.
Mayor Richard A. Moccia (Norwalk) also attended the Bridgeport event.
The landmark NEA report Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America (2004) documented a dramatic decline in literary reading -- among all age groups, ethnic groups, and education levels -- and galvanized a national discussion. Modeled on successful "city reads" programs, the Big Read was developed to help reverse this trend by giving citizens in all 50 states an opportunity to read and discuss great books. The next round of Big Read communities, which will hold programs from September-December 2007, will be announced on June 25.
For more information, or to find out how your organization can apply for a grant, please visit www.neabigread.org.
The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents the Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.
The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts -- both new and established -- bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. For more information, please visit www.arts.gov.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Its mission is to grow and sustain a "Nation of Learners" because life-long learning is essential to a democratic society and individual success. Through its grant making, convenings, research and publications, the Institute empowers museums and libraries nationwide to provide leadership and services to enhance learning in families and communities, sustain cultural heritage, build twenty-first-century skills, and increase civic participation. To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.imls.gov.
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