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 themes, voices, and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery.
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. Through the lens of American history and culture, the titles in the NEA Big Read library for 2021-2022 present an array of voices, perspectives, time periods, and genres that can help us as a nation to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are today, and where we’re going. Writes one NEA Big Read participant, echoing the sentiments of many other participants around the country, “the book taught us how to talk to and trust one another so that we could ultimately approach issues that were difficult and immediate.”
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 selection. Arts Midwest manages the NEA Big Read grants program. 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. The program may last as short as a week or as long as several months and includes a kick-off event; book discussions; events inspired by the content and themes from the book(s) (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).
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.
The NEA Big Read exposes people to new genres and ideas and challenges their current tastes in literature. And the best part is that people told us that at our events! They not only read something that they wouldn’t normally have read, but they went out of their way to participate in a community event and learn more about the story, characters, plot and author. It just really shows the community buy-in we have and the hunger communities have for connection with each other.
– the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Library, an NEA Big Read grantee, in a Q&A with Arts Midwest