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Participants in a previous Big Read community event create alfombras de aserrín, a sawdust carpet traditionally made during Holy Week to celebrate Easter in Guatemala

Ohio Arts Organizations Receive National Grants for Literature Programming

Author Julia Alvarez was the Massillon Museum's keynote for the 2016 Big Read. Here, she stands in the museum lobby, observing one of the alfombras de aserrín (a sawdust carpet traditionally made during Holy Week to celebrate Easter in Guatemala) created as part of that year’s Big Read program. Photo courtesy of Massillon MuseumThree Ohio organizations will bring works of literature to life through national grant funding that supports community reading programming.
The Massillon Museum and the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County with Lit Youngstown were each awarded a $15,000 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read grant, the NEA announced in a media release. This year, 78 NEA Big Read grants totaling more than $1 million were awarded in 31 states. The funding supports community reading projects taking place between September 2019 and June 2020.
NEA Big Read grants, which range from $5,000 to $15,000, are awarded to organizations such as school districts and universities, libraries, and arts organizations. Grant recipients use the funding to develop specific programming related to their Big Read book selection.
“The NEA Big Read program provides a fantastic opportunity for organizations to share impactful works of literature through programming that introduces audiences of all ages to new genres, voices, and viewpoints,” said Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. Collins. “The Ohio Arts Council is proud to have organizations from our state earn funding at the national level in recognition of the work they do to provide enriching experiences in the arts for everyone.”
For the 2019-20 program, the Massillon Museum will develop programming focused on Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, a graphic novel memoir by longtime New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.
“The graphic novel format of Chast's book provides what we think might be a gentler approach to the themes of aging, caregiving, familial strife, and even death. Chast also imbues humor into the narrative, providing both levity and access points for understanding and conversing about deeper subjects,” said Massillon Museum Executive Director Alexandra Nicholis Coon. “Roughly 60 percent of the Massillon Museum's current membership is comprised of seniors; by the year 2030, it's projected that nearly 75 percent of the country's population will be 65 and older. Therefore, the relevance extends beyond the museum's audience, and is one to which readers nationally can connect.”
For its 13th year of Big Read programming, Coon said the Massillon Museum is once again partnering with several regional organizations, including the Massillon Public Library, which is offering events for all ages ranging from film screenings to book discussions. Through another long-running partnership with Massillon Washington High School, the museum will present Big Read-inspired one-act plays written by local authors and directed and performed by students at the high school.
This year, they are also working with Voices of Canton, a local choral arts association, to incorporate musical performances by its Senior Sings and Alzheimer’s Community Chorus ensembles into events such as a day-long film festival at the museum. A focus on physical wellbeing also underscores plans for programming, with events such as yoga classes, Art and Alzheimer’s workshops, and an eight-week series on wellness and movement scheduled throughout the year. Dozens of additional programs have been organized in collaboration with area partners such as the Massillon YMCA, Stark Parks, Walsh University, and Kent State University.
“There are endless ways to draw connections. Being an art and history museum allows MassMu and its partners to creatively interpret the books for the shared benefit of the community,” Coon said, also mentioning that 1,000 free copies of Chast’s book will be distributed throughout the community. “Each year, our partner outreach extends further, engaging more people in the life of the Museum and, of course, in literature arts. We connect our exhibition themes and draw from our permanent collections to enrich our programming, and we love seeing how excited the community becomes about each new book.”
More information about these programs and events can be found at
Signmaker Michael Staaf checks the letters of a poem excerpt by Laura Grace Weldon, installed as part of the Ohio Arts Council-funded Words Made Visible project. Staaf made the stamps that were pressed into the concrete. Photo courtesy of Lit Youngstown.For its Big Read programming, the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County with Lit Youngstown will focus on Luis Alberto Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North, a present-day quest novel set in the U.S.-Mexico border region.
“The book gives us a means to discuss some issues that are at the surface now: immigration, diaspora, opiates, and trying to navigate the economic realities of today,” said Lit Youngstown Founding Director Karen Schubert. “(Into the Beautiful North) is kind of an adventure novel, and I feel that the whole Youngstown community is on this same quest. We’re striving to find our story and identity, in our case, after the steel industry collapse, the impact of the 2008 financial crisis and the loss of two-thirds of our population.”
A full calendar of community programming related to Into the Beautiful North is scheduled in collaboration with local organizations, including book discussions, an author talk, a local community theatre reading, and a film festival hosted at the library.
Other events planed for the upcoming year include a three-minute fiction contest hosted by Lit Youngstown; a Wick Poetry Center Traveling Stanzas presentation highlighting works that focus on immigrants’ experiences; narratives of immigrants living in Youngstown; and collaborations with Youngstown State University, including the art department and the planetarium, the latter of which will host an event about Southwestern celestial mythology.
Additionally, Schubert said 1,000 copies of the book will be provided in both English and Spanish, as well as in audio book form, to branches of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. The Rotary Club of Youngstown will also donate one copy of the book to every Little Free Library in the area.
More information about these programs and events can be found at and
Launched in 2006 as a partnership between the NEA and Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read initiative has provided more than $19 million to organizations, allowing more than 1,400 Big Read programs throughout the country to take place.
According to the release, more than 4.9 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 82,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. 
“It is inspiring to see both large and small communities across the nation come together around a book,” said National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman Mary Anne Carter. “We always look forward to the unique ways cities, towns, and organizations explore these stories and encourage community participation in a wide variety of events.”
To view a complete list of 2019-20 NEA Big Read grant recipients organized by state, visit:

More information about the program can be found at
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at
Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. Based in Minneapolis, 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 nonprofit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 30 years. For more information, visit
Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. For more information, visit

Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Featured photo: Participants in a previous Big Read community event create alfombras de aserrín, a sawdust carpet traditionally made during Holy Week to celebrate Easter in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Massillon Museum.

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