National Endowment for the Arts and Library of Congress Host Washington Celebration of the Big Read
Mrs. Laura Bush to serve as honorary chair of the Big Read
July 20, 2006
Washington, D.C. - In an effort to inspire members of Congress to encourage their constituents to join a nationwide reading initiative, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) today invited them to a Washington celebration of the Big Read. The Big Read is a new program designed to revitalize reading in American culture. Today's event was held at the Library of Congress with NEA Chairman Dana Gioia joined by General Donald L. Scott, Deputy Librarian of Congress.
The highlight of today's event was an appearance by Mrs. Laura Bush who is enthusiastically joining the Big Read as its Honorary Chair.
"As a former teacher and librarian and a lifelong reader, I understand not only the importance of literacy to a society, but also the pure joy and personal enrichment that comes with sitting down with a good book," said Mrs. Bush. "I applaud the Big Read and the NEA for developing a program whose goal is to bring communities together through literature and reading. I'm delighted to be a part of it."
"The Big Read is an ambitious program that will reconnect millions of Americans with great works from our rich literary heritage. We hope to reawaken the public's passion for the pleasures of reading," said NEA Chairman Gioia.
"It's an honor to have Mrs. Bush, a former librarian and an avid reader, with us to encourage people to join the Big Read."
Also joining in the Washington celebration of the Big Read was the NEA's lead federal partner in the program, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which provides leadership and funding for the nation's 17,500 museums and 122,000 libraries. IMLS is supporting the Big Read with $1 million dollars in the first year of the program.
IMLS Director Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice affirmed the importance of the program and also urged members of Congress to encourage communities in their states to apply for a Big Read grant. "Literary reading has special power," said Dr. Radice. "It moves us; it explores the human condition; it helps us see ourselves and others in new ways. But the Big Read is not just about reading literature; it's about creating strong communities. Members of Congress, who have been wonderfully supportive of libraries and literacy over the years, are in an ideal position to encourage their communities to participate in this important program."
Members of Congress, including Senator Norm Coleman, Representative Louise M. Slaughter, and Representative Charles H. Taylor, also participated by reading passages from their favorite books.
The Big Read is administered by Arts Midwest, a regional arts agency based in Minneapolis, MN. Additional program partners include the Boeing Company, which will support the Big Read on military bases and surrounding communities. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Community Foundations of America also will support the Big Read through a matching grants program for participating communities.
For 2007, communities participating in the Big Read will be able to choose from eight modern American classics: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; My Ántonia by Willa Cather; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway; Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.
The Arts Endowment will award grants generally ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to more than 100 communities to conduct month-long community-based programs that encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. Each selected city or town is required to produce a comprehensive community-wide Big Read that involves collaborations with libraries, schools, local government, and the private sector. Each community will develop a program of activities related to its chosen novel, such as a keynote session, special events, and book discussions aimed at a diverse range of audiences.
In addition to direct grants, the NEA offers each community a library of resources. These materials include reader's and teacher's guides for each novel; CDs for each book with commentary from renowned educators and arts figures such as Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; an online organizer's guide for running a successful Big Read Program; and a comprehensive Web site. In addition, the NEA has produced promotional materials to encourage broad participation, including television public service announcements and radio programming.
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.
For more information, or to find out how your organization can apply for a grant, please visit www.neabigread.org.
This year, the National Endowment for the Arts marks its 40th anniversary of leadership in the arts. The NEA 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.
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.
Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. 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 25 years. For more information, please visit http://www.artsmidwest.org.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency