The NEA Big Read—a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest—broadens our understanding of our world, our neighbors, and ourselves through the power of a shared reading experience. Showcasing a diverse range of themes, voices, and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire meaningful conversations, artistic responses, and new discoveries and connections in each community.
The NEA Big Read annually provides support to selected nonprofit organizations around the country to host dynamic community-wide reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read title. Organizations apply for funding through a grants program managed by Arts Midwest. Each community program that receives an NEA Big Read grant—which ranges between $5,000 and $20,000—is also provided with resources, outreach materials, and training on various aspects such as working with local partners, developing public relations strategies, and leading book discussions and Q&As.
NEA Big Read programs may last as short as a week or as long as several months and include a kick-off event; book discussions; events inspired by the content and themes from the book (e.g., panel discussions, lectures, film screenings); and projects that engage the community and/or respond creatively to the book (e.g., art exhibitions, theatrical and/or musical performances, poetry slams, writing workshops and contests, activities related to collecting and sharing oral/written stories from members of the community).
“The book taught us how to talk to and trust one another so that we could ultimately approach issues that were difficult and immediate,” writes one NEA Big Read participant, echoing the sentiments of many other participants around the country. Studies show that reading for pleasure reduces stress, heightens empathy, improves students’ test scores, slows the onset of dementia, and makes us more active and aware citizens. Book clubs and community reading programs extend these benefits by creating opportunities to explore together the issues that are relevant to our lives.
Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,700 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $23 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, NEA Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country. Over the past 15 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 90,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and over 40,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.