HomeProgramsNEA Big ReadGuidelines and Application Instructions

Guidelines and Application Instructions

Application Deadline: Thursday, January 24, 2019

Programming Dates: September 1, 2019—June 30, 2020

Approximately 75 organizations will be selected for grants from $5,000 to $15,000.

The following three documents are examples of awarded applications for the 2017-2018 grant opportunity:


Program description

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of contemporary books that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery.

NEA Big Read annually supports approximately 75 dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection. Organizations selected to participate in NEA Big Read receive a grant, access to online training resources and opportunities, digital resources, and promotional materials designed to support widespread community involvement.

NEA Big Read applicants submit proposals to host a series of community events presented at a variety of locations over the course of one month or longer. Events use the same NEA Big Read book as a point of departure and encourage participants to engage both with the book and fellow community members. Each NEA Big Read program includes: a kick-off event, often attended by high-profile leaders and other local luminaries; major events inspired by the content and themes from the book (e.g., panel discussions and author readings); artistic events related to the book (e.g., art/writing contests, film screenings, and theatrical performances); and book discussions in diverse locations involving a wide range of audiences.

To see examples of current programming and materials developed by previous grantees, visit the Community Stories tab for your chosen book at arts.gov; the NEA Big Read Pinterest account; and the Arts Midwest blog.

Eligibility criteria

An applicant organization must:

  1. Be a 501c(3) nonprofit organization; a unit of state, local, or tribal government; or a tax-exempt public library located within the United States or its territories. Eligible applicants include organizations such as arts centers, arts councils, arts organizations, colleges and universities, community service organizations, environmental organizations, fairs and festivals, faith-based organizations, historical societies, housing authorities, humanities councils, libraries, literary centers, museums, school districts, theater companies, trade associations, and tribal governments. Check your IRS status.
  2. Partner with a library (if the applicant organization itself is not a library). University and college applicants must partner with a library that is not directly affiliated with their educational institution.
  3. Choose one of the 32 available reading selections. Applicants that have received an NEA Big Read grant in the past must choose a different reading selection from their previous award.
  4. Have a DUNS (Dun and Bradstreet) number. Look up your DUNS number.
  5. Have and maintain an “active” SAM registration (System for Award Management; sam.gov) until the application process is complete, and if selected, throughout the programming dates of the award. This may include renewing your registration annually or more frequently if there are changes in the information. SAM registration is free. Contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center for free specialized help with the sam.gov registration process.
    UPDATE: Entities who create or update their registration in SAM.gov will no longer need to have an approved Entity Administrator notarized letter on file before their registration is activated. See here for more information. Entities seeking Federal Assistance still must mail the original, signed copy of the notarized letter to the Federal Service Desk. Failure to do so within 30 days of activation may result in the registration no longer being active. Unfortunately, the NEA and Arts Midwest have no control over the SAM requirements.
  6. Be able to comply with the federal policies and legal requirements, statutes, and regulations in the Assurance of Compliance.

Local education agencies, school districts, and state and regional education agencies are eligible. We do not fund individual elementary or secondary schools—charter, private, or public—directly. Schools may participate as partners in projects for which another eligible organization applies. If a single school also is a local education agency, as is the case with some charter schools, the school may apply with documentation that supports its status as a local education agency.

An organization whose primary purpose is to channel resources (financial, human, or other) to an affiliated organization is not eligible to apply if the affiliated organization submits its own application. This prohibition applies even if each organization has its own 501c(3) status. For example, the “Friends of ABC Library” may not also apply if the ABC Library applies.

Organizations may apply for one grant per program year.

Ineligible applications will not be reviewed.

Grant awards

Eligible organizations may apply for a grant ranging from $5,000 to $15,000. These grants are federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (CFDA No. 45.024: Promotion of the Arts Awards to Organizations and Individuals) and may be used for such expenses as book purchases, speaker fees and travel, salaries, promotion, and venue rental. Grants are cost shared and must be matched on a 1 to 1 basis with nonfederal funds such as private grants, in-kind contributions, and earned revenues. Please see the proposal budget instructions for more information.

If awarded, the applicant will enter into a Grant Agreement with Arts Midwest. Full funding of grant requests is not guaranteed. If awarded, the grant amount may be less than the amount requested in the applicant's proposal and rounded to an even dollar amount.

Funding is not available for:

  • Overlapping project costs between federal awards, whether received directly from a federal agency or indirectly, such as through a state agency or other entity
  • Programs restricted to any organization's membership; programs must be promoted and available to the general public
  • Payment for facilities, purchase of capital equipment, or non-project related administrative expenses
  • Fellowships or cash prizes
  • Entertainment costs, such as opening parties, receptions, or fundraisers

Reading selections

Applicants must choose one of the 32 reading selections from the NEA Big Read list. Applicants that have received NEA Big Read grants must choose a different reading selection than what they have received grants for in the past. More information about the books, examples of past programming, and other resources can be accessed by visiting http://www.arts.gov/national-initiatives/nea-big-read/.

Books available for 2019-20 are:

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Advice from the Lights by Stephanie (previously Stephen) Burt

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom

How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2002 by Joy Harjo

To Live by Yu Hua

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Hustle by David Tomas Martinez

The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

True Grit by Charles Portis

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Burning Bright by Ron Rash

A Small Story About the Sky by Alberto Ríos

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang

Book of Hours by Kevin Young

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra

Copies of the reading selection are not provided along with the grant award. Applicants should articulate in their proposal a plan to acquire and distribute sufficient copies of their chosen book using grant or local funding sources.

Digital resources and promotional materials

Digital resources in PDF format are available for download for grantees to share with their communities. Visit arts.gov/national-initiatives/nea-big-read/ and click on the book of your choice to see the resources available for your reading selection. Reader Resources with information on the featured book and author are available for all reading selections, with some translated in to Spanish. Teacher’s Guides and media resources like podcasts, audio guides, and films are available for some reading selections.

Grantees also receive free promotional items including three full-color NEA Big Read banners and a set of bookmarks to promote their programs. These will be available beginning in the late summer.

Selection process and review criteria

Application review will be based on the artistic excellence and artistic merit of the program. Applications are reviewed by an advisory panel composed of a diverse group of arts and literature experts and other individuals with broad knowledge of programs like NEA Big Read. Panel composition changes annually. If selected for a grant, an organization will be expected to carry out a program consistent with its proposal. If changes are necessary, they must be discussed and approved by NEA Big Read staff at Arts Midwest.

Specifically, panelists will evaluate each application based on the following review criteria:

  1. Quality of diverse and creative literary programming that: addresses the themes, writing, and content of the chosen NEA Big Read book; meet the programming requirements; and have the potential to engage a wide range of community members of various ability levels and backgrounds.
  2. Relevance and depth of involvement with community partner organizations that will broaden community participation beyond the applicant's primary constituent base and reach historically underrepresented and marginalized audiences. Examples of such partners are arts organizations, bookstores, community centers, community colleges, community service organizations, correctional institutions, libraries, local businesses, middle and high schools, military installations, museums, senior centers, social service organizations, universities, and youth groups.
  3. Comprehensive promotion of the NEA Big Read through digital and print channels as well as other public relations/marketing efforts; distribution of digital resources and promotional materials; and publicity through partnerships with local radio, print, TV, social media, and other media outlets as applicable.
  4. Capacity to manage and implement the proposed NEA Big Read programming including organizational capacity, the provision of appropriate personnel, reasonable budget plan, and evidence of the required 1 to 1 cost share/match.
Application timeline
Application deadline January 24, 2019
Panel review February—April 2019
Notification of selected communities Late April 2019
Online orientation for grantees June 2019
Promotional materials distributed to grantees August 2019
Program activity September 1, 2019—June 30, 2020

Program requirements

Successful NEA Big Read programming should encourage reading and discussion of the selected book on a community-wide scale.

Your NEA Big Read must include the following:

  1. Diverse and imaginative events and literary activities held at a variety of locations. Specifically:
  • A kick-off event to launch the program.
  • A minimum of 5-10 discussions on the selected book.
  • At least one keynote session on the selected book and its themes, either with the author or another appropriate speaker. If you are considering an author visit as part of your programming, please be aware that honoraria and availability vary by individual. Other considerations for a keynote could include a panel discussion or a presentation by someone associated with the book or author.
  • A minimum of two special events involving other forms of artistic programming designed to engage participants with the selected book (e.g., art exhibits/contests, films, musical performances, theatrical readings, and creative writing activities related to the themes of the book.
  • Proposed events that seek to celebrate and/or build awareness of a particular culture described in the book must be conducted in a respectful manner, be relevant to the story, provide appropriate context for participants, and offer substantive educational opportunities.

    Note: Event types may be combined (e.g., a kick-off event can include a keynote session and a discussion of the book).

  1. Community partnerships
  • Applicant organizations must partner with a library (if the applicant itself is not a library). University and college applicants must partner with a library that is not directly affiliated with their educational institution.
  • Applicants should partner with various community organizations to reach beyond their primary constituent base.
  • Examples of potential partners include local community and arts organizations, community colleges and universities, correctional institutions, libraries, bookstores, local businesses, middle and high schools, military installations, museums, senior centers, social service organizations, and youth groups.
  1. Promotional efforts and partnerships
    To ensure strong community participation in NEA Big Read activities by individuals of various ages, cultural backgrounds, educational levels, and occupations, organizations should actively promote their programming through digital and print channels as well as other public relations/marketing efforts. Organizations should also consider partnering with local radio, print, TV, social media, and other media outlets as applicable.
Additional grant requirements

Each organization receiving a grant must:

  • Conduct activities between September 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. Recommended program length is approximately one month.
  • Call its program “NEA Big Read.” (E.g., NEA Big Read: Minneapolis)
  • Cost share/match the grant at least 1 to 1. Please refer to the proposal budget instructions for more information.
  • Participate in an online orientation with other program participants in June 2019.
  • Use and distribute the digital resources (see Digital Resources and promotional materials section).
  • Provide information to be posted on the Arts Midwest website.
  • Comply with all crediting requirements. This includes consistent crediting of the NEA Big Read, the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Midwest, and any additional sponsors.
  • Comply with all reporting requirements (see final report template). Grantees must adhere to multiple deadlines including providing data before and after their community activities. Grantees will be required to submit a final report within 45 days of their final activity with event attendance statistics, partner organization data, media and promotional examples, and narrative responses about their programming.
  • Comply with all federal grant regulations, including providing organizational audit information if required by federal law. Please review the Assurance of Compliance document.
  • As necessary, seek legal permissions for activities and promotional materials.

How to apply

To apply for the NEA Big Read you must complete an intent to apply form online after which you will receive an invite to the NEA Big Read online community and a link to the application. The online application must be submitted on or before January 24, 2019.

Please refer to this application checklist to guide you through the application process.

We recognize that some elements of a proposal may be tentative, but you should be as specific and thorough as possible. It is difficult for panelists to assess your program without detailed information on proposed activities, partners, venues, dates, etc.

Application contents

  1. General information
  1. Applicant organization: Employer Identification Number, DUNS number, and an active registration with SAM (sam.gov)
  1. Proof of your organization's federal tax-exempt status, consisting of either:
  • A scanned PDF of your organization's federal tax-exempt ruling letter under Section 501c(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; or
  • A scanned PDF of documentation indicating that your organization is a division of state, local, or tribal government. A one-page letter from a higher governing body (state, county, city) that vouches for your organization as an arm of local government and is therefore federally tax exempt is the most common article of proof we accept.
    State sales tax-exemption certificates and copies of ordinances or bylaws are not qualified documents.
    View examples of documents we accept as proof of federal tax exempt status. If you need assistance to identify the correct documentation, please call Arts Midwest or check with your finance department.
  1. Grant request amount (between $5,000 and $15,000).
  2. Your proposed program's start and end dates. Programming must occur between Sept. 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020; recommended program length is approximately one month.
  3. A description of the community you plan to reach with NEA Big Read programming and an anticipated total number of participants attending your proposed events. For example, a community may be a geographic area, a demographic, or both. (1,000 character limit, including spaces)
  4. A statement about intended outcomes for your NEA Big Read and, if applicable, how your plans will build upon prior efforts and/or existing programs. (1,000 character limit, including spaces)
  5. Your chosen reading selection.
  6. An explanation of why your organization chose that book for your community. (1,000 character limit, including spaces)

  1. Quality of diverse and imaginative literary programming
  2. The panel will review the rationale for choosing the title, programming plans, and proposed number of events to determine the quality of diverse and creative literary programming that: addresses the themes, writing, and content of the chosen NEA Big Read book; meet the programming requirements; and have potential to engage a wide range of community members of various ability levels and backgrounds.

    Programming description (6,000 character limit, including spaces)

  • Describe your programming plans in detail. Be sure that your plans meet the programming requirements explained above.
  • Provide details on the types of activities, target audiences for those activities, locations, and intended dates.
  • Explain how your activities will engage audiences with your selected book.
  • Proposed number of book discussions (must be at least 5).
  • Proposed total number of events (including book discussions).

  1. Relevance and depth of involvement with community partner organizations
  2. The panel will review your partnerships description, letters of support, and proposed number of partner organizations to determine the relevance and depth of involvement with community partner organizations that will broaden community participation beyond the applicant’s primary constituent base and reach historically underrepresented and marginalized audiences.

  1. Partnerships description (4,000 character limit, including spaces)
  • Describe your partnerships with libraries (as applicable) and community organizations.
  • Explain the role each partner will play in your program, the activities each partner will undertake with your organization, and whether these partnerships are confirmed or pending.
  • Explain how your partnerships will allow you to reach your intended audience(s) and strengthen or build new communities around the NEA Big Read activities.

  1. Letters of support (upload)
  • Include two, one-page letters of support. Each letter should address the roles and responsibilities of the partner organization in relation to the project. These letters may be addressed to “NEA Big Read review panel.”
  • For library applicants: one letter must be from a key partner.
  • For all other applicants: one letter must be from your library partner.
  • Submit letters on organization letterhead and in PDF format.
  • (In a separate field in the application) Total number of partner organizations (pending and confirmed).

  1. Comprehensive promotion of the NEA Big Read
  2. The panel will review your promotion of the NEA Big Read through digital and print channels as well as other public relations/marketing efforts; distribution of digital resources and promotional materials; and publicity through partnerships with local radio, print, TV, social media, and media outlets as applicable.

    Promotional description (2,000 character limit, including spaces)

  • Describe how you will promote your programming. Discuss any proposed or existing partnerships with specific media outlets.
  • Explain how your program will utilize the digital resources found on arts.gov and distribute copies of your reading selection.
  1. Capacity to manage and implement the proposed NEA Big Read programming

    The panel will review your capacity to manage and implement the proposed NEA Big Read programming, including organizational capacity, the provision of appropriate personnel, reasonable budget plan, and evidence of the required 1 to 1 cost share/match.

  1. Organization description (4,000 character limit, including spaces)
  • Describe your organization's mission, history, and achievements.
  • Describe the impact of your organization's experience with presenting community-wide programming that demonstrates an ability to conduct a successful NEA Big Read.
  1. Organizer biographies (2,000 character limit, including spaces)
  • Outline the key individuals who will plan and implement the programming, noting their anticipated roles and responsibilities in your proposed programs, and experience or capacity for managing an NEA Big Read.
  • Include partner organizations' staff as applicable.
  1. Finances
  • Previous fiscal year organization expenses.
  • Current budgeted fiscal year organization expenses.
  • Include all anticipated expenses necessary to fully implement the program plans proposed, including planning, programming, and reporting.
  • Be sure to represent your 1 to 1 cost share/match for the program.
  • Compare your budget against the details provided in the narrative responses to ensure there are no inconsistencies.

NEA Big Read program staff can review budgets for technical accuracy prior to formal submission with sufficient advance notice.

Download the proposal budget form
Download the proposal budget instructions
View an example budget

Application deadline

All applications must be submitted electronically on or before Thursday, January 24, 2019.

After submission of your application, Arts Midwest staff will review it for eligibility, project requirement fulfillment, and the inclusion of all application components. If there are no questions concerning your application, the contacts named in your application will receive an email acknowledging your application is complete along with a PDF of the complete application as it will be forwarded to the review panel.

Program contact

Arts Midwest manages all grant applications for NEA Big Read from eligible applicants nationwide and serves as the program manager on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts. If you have questions about NEA Big Read, application components, or the application guidelines, please call Arts Midwest at 612.238.8010 or email [email protected].