The program which included over 20 events from art exhibitions, to panel and book discussions, workshops and performances, aimed to build community and inspire conversation and discovery through the joy of sharing a good book. The 2019 NEA Big Read book selection Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, brought readers together around the themes of survival, legacy and community.
The NEA Big Read Kick-Off and Community Fair was held at the Mojave Desert Land Trust on September 7, 2019. An open-house celebration where community members were invited to pick-up copies of the Big Read book, learn about the wide variety of programming from our 20 partner organizations, participate in a zine-making workshop, youth art-making activities and enjoy music from the Shadow Mountain Band. The kick-off was a multi-generational event with activities for all age groups making families, young adults and seniors alike feel welcome.
Book discussions and community readings were held throughout the Morongo Basin in order to reach the greatest number of community members. Book discussions were hosted by the libraries of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, the Military Combat Center Library, Copper Mountain College and Calvin’s Joshua Tree Book Club. Community readings organized by Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library were held at ArtFx, Landers Brew, Mojave Moon Café, Space Cowboy Books, The Art Colony, and The Palms.
As part of the BIG READ, Space Cowboy Books hosted a panel discussion featuring local authors Jon Christopher, Susan Rukeyser, and Gabriel Hart curated and moderated by Jean-Paul Garnier. Each working in different sub-genres of science fiction, the authors discussed the themes of Station Eleven and the differences and similarities between speculative, literary, dystopian and science fiction.
Copper Mountain College Art Professor Cathy Allen and artist Karyl Newman lead an assemblage art-making workshop using the collected desert debris as part of the installation for Concourse C, an exhibition presented at the Yucca Valley Performing Arts Center.
In addition to hosting the kick-off, the Mojave Desert Land Trust hosted a Reading The Landscape (RTL) presentation on September 14, 2019. RTL is a set of guidelines created by the Land Trust to help locals and visitors to the region make informed decisions about engaging with our desert land and its delicate ecosystems. These tips are a resource to advise art makers throughout their creative processes, to ensure that each step is done in a way that will preserve the desert landscape for future generations.
Throughout the NEA Big Read month, Spark Growth used the companion book “I Am An Artist” by Pat Lowery Collins to engage over 500 K-6 Yucca Valley Elementary students, including special education students, in a discussion about the importance of art, a strong theme in Station Eleven. Readings were followed by hands-on enrichment activities matching the students’ grade levels and will invite students to use their surroundings as inspiration for art making.
Playing on Station Eleven’s distopyian narrative, Tumbleweed Art Gallery hosted a travelling exhibition in their ’72 Winnebago Mobile Gallery with a collection of “vital works for humanity” as interpreted by local artists.
Eligible organizations apply to Arts Midwest for NEA Big Read grants and the applications are reviewed by a panel of outside experts on the basis of artistic excellence and merit. Competitive applications demonstrate strong literary programming, experience in building effective local partnerships, reaching and engaging new and diverse audiences, working with educators, involving local and state public officials, and working with media. More information on the application and guidelines are available on Arts Midwest’s website.
Arts Connection’s 2020 Big Read partners include the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, Copper Mountain Community College, Harrison House Music, Arts & Ecology, the Institute of Inquiry, the Mojave Desert Land Trust, the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council, Spark Growth, Thought Theatre, Cholla Needles, and the San Bernardino County libraries of Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, and Yucca Valley. Z107.7fm is the official media sponsor of the NEA Big Read in the Morongo Basin. Additional sponsors include the California Welcome Center, Copper Mountain College Foundation, the Morongo Basin Conservation Association and the 29 Palms Rotary Club.
Suggestions for new titles are collected from a variety of sources, including the public, NEA Big Read grantees, and past Big Read panelists. The National Endowment for the Arts narrows the list of suggestions based on criteria including diversity of genre, diversity and stature of authors, a focus on living authors and contemporary work, the universal appeal of themes, capacity to incite lively and deep discussion, and a focus on expanding the range of voices and stories currently represented in the NEA Big Read library.A committee of outside readers representing a range of voices (including librarians, students, teachers, writers, booksellers, and publishers) review the books and make the final recommendations.You can suggest a new NEA Big Read title at arts.gov/neabigread
Big Read programs will include panel discussions, art exhibitions, theatrical performances, traditional book discussions, workshops, poetry readings and K-6 and university programs. To ensure the health and safety of community members and participants, the majority of our 2020 Big Read programs will be hosted online.
Visit arts.gov/neabigread for more information on the national NEA Big Read program. The website also features information about the NEA Big Read titles, including author biographies,discussion questions, and community stories from communities who have hosted Big Read programs.
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