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National Endowment for the Arts Funds 84 NEA Big Read Projects Nationwide

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A blue screen with two rectangles showing two people video chatting with one another.

For their NEA Big Read kick-off event on May 13, 2020, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut, hosted author Stephanie Burt—author of Advice from the Lights—in an online conversation with Eric Maroney, English professor at Gateway Community College. Screenshot courtesy of International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Washington, DC—Each year, the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read initiative brings communities together around the shared activity of reading and discussing a book. Today, the Arts Endowment is announcing funding for 84 organizations to lead NEA Big Read projects between September 2020 and June 2021, providing a range of activities—in person or virtually—around a book selected from the NEA Big Read library.

"We have become even more aware this year of the important ways the arts help us connect with others, and how they bring meaning, joy, and comfort to our lives,” said Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “These 84 organizations leading NEA Big Reads will provide opportunities for deep discussion and ways to help us better understand one another.”

The main feature of the NEA Big Read is a grants program, managed by Arts Midwest, which annually supports dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection. Each organization is receiving a grant ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 for their project, totaling $1,157,000. Projects will take place in 32 states and Puerto Rico, in communities ranging from Columbus, Georgia (Chattahoochee Valley Libraries), to Stillwater, Oklahoma (Stillwater Public Library), to Enterprise, Oregon (Fishtrap). Twenty-five books from the NEA Big Read library were selected by grantees this year, such as Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, Madeline Miller’s Circe, and Luis Alberto Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North.

“We are honored to continue our partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts on this incredible program,” said Torrie Allen, president & CEO of Arts Midwest. “For more than 14 years this national effort has invested in communities as they gather to discuss the stories and ideas that connect us to one another. We are especially inspired by the projects and organizations that are finding new, virtual ways of creating those connections with their communities and are thrilled to support them at this critical time.”

During Spring 2020, some of the 2019-2020 grantees moved their NEA Big Read programming online in response to COVID-19. For instance, the University of Central Florida hosted a virtual staged reading with UCF School of Performing Arts graduate students as part of their programming around The Things They Carried. The theater company 7 Stages in Atlanta, Georgia, moved their arts festival online, which included artistic responses inspired by Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters. And Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, held virtual events including an online film screening and discussion, and a collaborative “quaranzine” based on Advice from the Lights that was digitally featured at Stephanie Burt’s online reading.

About the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read
The National Endowment for the Arts Big Read, a partnership with Arts Midwest, broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery. Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,600 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $22 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country. Over the past 14 years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.

Visit arts.gov/neabigread for more information about the NEA Big Read, including reader resources—such as book overviews, discussion questions, and interviews with the authors—as well as community stories from past NEA Big Read grantees. Organizations interested in applying for an NEA Big Read grant in the future should visit Arts Midwest’s website for more information.

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more.

Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 35 years. For more information, please visit artsmidwest.org.