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Applying for the NEA Big Read

The NEA Big Read is a grant of up to $20,000 to help bring communities together around the shared activity of reading and discussing the same book.  

People sitting in chairs gathered in a circle, in discussion and with books in their hands.
Photo Credit: Byron Totty Photography

How to Apply

  1. 1

    Review the Guidelines

    Learn more about the types of projects we support and review our grant deadlines below. You can also download a Word copy of the guidelines.

  2. 2

    Submit your Intent to Apply

    Submit your Intent to Apply by Wednesday, January 18, 2023. Visit our grants portal, SmartSimple, to begin this process. Access detailed instructions on how to get set up in SmartSimple.

  3. 3

    Complete and submit the application form

    Complete and submit the application form by Wednesday, January 25, 2023 at 11:59pm Central Time.


Programming dates: September 1, 2023 – June 30, 2024

The NEA Big Read welcomes applications from a variety of eligible organizations, including first-time applicants; organizations serving communities of all sizes, including rural and urban areas; and organizations with small, medium or large operating budgets.

Applicants must:

  • Be a 501c3 nonprofit; a division of state, local, or tribal government; or a tax-exempt public library.
  • Be located in the United States and the Native nations that share this geography.
  • Agree to acknowledge Arts Midwest and the National Endowment for the Arts in all programs and press materials related to funded engagements.
  • Have a valid Unique Entity ID via SAM.gov (free to acquire).
  • Comply with Federal eligibility requirements.

Examples of eligible applicants include:

  • Arts centers, arts councils, and arts organizations
  • Colleges and universities
  • Libraries and literary centers
  • Community service organizations, environmental organizations, and faith-based organizations
  • Museums and historical societies
  • School districts and local education agencies
  • Tribal governments and non-profits

Ineligible Applicants

  • Individual elementary or secondary schools
  • For-profit business or organizations
  • Artists, ensembles, and artist’s agents
  • Applicants applying with a fiscal sponsor

Arts Midwest is currently accepting applications for events occurring between September 1, 2023, and June 30, 2024. Funded activities may be virtual or in-person. Each NEA Big Read applicant will be expected to:

1. Select a book from the current reading list.

2. Offer a variety of imaginative events and activities related to your book selection. Minimum requirements include:

  • One (1) public kick-off event to launch the program (e.g., book giveaways, mayoral proclamation, outdoor concert or festival, art exhibition opening).
  • At least five (5) book discussions.
  • At least two (2) presentations inspired by the content and/or themes of the selected book (e.g., an in-person or online Q&A with an NEA Big Read or companion title author, panel discussions, lectures, film screenings).
  • At least two (2) projects or activities that engage the community and/or respond creatively to the selected book or companion title (e.g. art exhibitions, poetry slams, theatrical or musical performances, writing workshops and contests, storytelling events in the community).

Note: Event types may be combined. For example, a kick-off event can include both a presentation session and a discussion of the book.

3. Engage with community partners.

  • Applicants must partner with a library, unless the applicant itself is a library. Higher education applicants must partner with a library that is not directly affiliated with their institution.
  • Applicants must partner with at least one additional community organization or group. This partnership should serve to expand the applicant’s existing base to include new participants of various abilities, ages, cultural backgrounds, education levels, and occupations.
  • Applicants and community partners must promote their programming and outreach efforts to ensure community participation, inclusivity, and reach to broad and diverse groups.

Examples of ineligible projects

  • A project that exclusively focuses on literacy. Literacy may be a component of an NEA Big Read but it is not the mission of the program.
  • A project that exclusively focuses on a book that is not on the NEA Big Read book list. Applicants must select an NEA Big Read book but may include related titles for their programming.
  • Projects funded by another federal source.
  • Projects with a total budget less than $10,000. (See more under “Budget Requirements”)

Applicants may request grant awards ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. These grants are federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. These funds derive from Federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (CFDA #45.024: Promotion of the Arts_Grants to Organizations and Individuals).

Matching requirement

Applicants will be required to demonstrate matching funds on a 1:1 basis for their requested grant amount. (For example, if an applicant requests a $10,000 NEA Big Read grant, the total project budget must be at least $20,000.) Federal funds cannot be used as match.

Examples of eligible expenses

  • Speaker fees
  • Book purchases
  • Supply costs
  • Promotional fees
  • Project staff salaries
  • Venue rentals
  • Other expenses directly related and necessary to conducting your community-wide multi-disciplinary program.

Contact Arts Midwest at [email protected] with any inquiries about eligible expenses not listed above.

Examples of unallowable expenses

As a Federally funded program, unallowable uses of funds include, but are not limited to:

  • Refreshments, concessions, food, and alcohol
  • Fellowships or cash prizes
  • Payment for facilities, purchase of capital equipment, or non-project related administrative expenses.
  • Overlapping project costs between federal awards, whether received directly from a federal agency or indirectly, such as through a state agency or other entity.
  • Entertainment costs, such as opening parties, receptions, or fundraisers designed to raise funds for your own organization and on behalf of another person, organization, or cause.
  • Programs restricted to any organization’s membership; programs must be promoted and available to the general public.

Applications are reviewed by an independent advisory panel composed of a diverse group of arts and literature experts and other individuals with broad knowledge of community programs. Panel composition changes annually.

Grantees are selected based on:

  • Artistic excellence and merit of programming. The panel will review the relevance and rationale of the chosen NEA Big Read book and (if applicable) any accompanying companion title(s), as well as the quality of diverse and imaginative literary programs held at a variety of accessible spaces that address the themes, writing, and content of the chosen NEA Big Read book and meet the programming requirements.
  • Depth of audience engagement. The panel will consider the relevance and depth of involvement with individuals and organizations that will assist with program deployment and broaden audience participation beyond the applicant’s primary constituent base. The panel will also consider efforts to engage audiences of various abilities, ages, cultural backgrounds, educational levels, races, ethnicities, and occupations as partners and participants.
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. The panel will evaluate the applicant’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access as they relate to the proposed project including accessibility design and services for people with disabilities, reaching a variety of audiences, working with diverse partners, etc.
  • The ability and capacity to carry out the project. The panel will consider the applicant’s ability to manage and implement an NEA Big Read program. The panel will consider organizational capacity, the planning timeline, the participation of appropriate personnel, and a reasonable budget plan with the required 1-to-1 match.

If funded, applicants will be responsible for providing Arts Midwest with schedules, reports, and other required materials. For more information, please review the grant agreement. For example, grantees will be required to:

  • Inform Arts Midwest of any changes to the program start and end dates.
  • Provide Arts Midwest with an initial engagement schedule, no later than 30 days before the scheduled start date.
  • At the conclusion of programming, submit a final report to Arts Midwest within 45 days. This includes a final budget, attendance numbers, and narrative responses.
  • Use the full amount of the grant award and required one-to-one match, before submitting a final budget.
  • Provide access to programs and events should Arts Midwest decide to conduct a site visit during the project.


Arts Midwest is now collecting applications through a new grants management platform called SmartSimple. Before you apply for a grant opportunity, you’ll need to register your organization in the system.

Get Started in Smart Simple

A mother and daughter sit at a kitchen table together, cast in the light from the kitchen window. They're looking at a book together and talking.
Photo Credit: Gary Harwood

15 Minute Consultations

Arts Midwest staff are available to help with your application. We can do some initial brainstorming/refining with you about ideas and will review application materials for eligibility and completeness. We are not able to help with reviewing content beyond eligibility. To schedule a meeting with a staff member, fill out the 15-minute consultation request form.

Sign Up

Three young people pose with books, including "Fahrenheit 451," "My Beloved World," and "Can't Stop Won't Stop," in front of an NEA Big Read banner.
Photo Credit: Michael Crew


Arts Midwest requests that all applicants apply online unless a disability prevents them from doing so. The platform we use, SmartSimple, has a dedicated Quality Assurance team that tests this platform, plus an outside consultant who does both accessibility and usability testing quarterly. They use assistive technologies such as the JAWS screen reader.

Arts Midwest works to ensure that grant guidelines, presentations, and any other written materials are created with accessibility principles in mind. Additionally, we are happy to provide materials in Braille, Large Print, or other formats with advance notice.

To ensure everyone has access to the application, Arts Midwest staff will work with applicants who wish to use other means to apply. Solutions we have previously implemented include filling out an adapted form in Microsoft Word and providing verbal responses that Arts Midwest will share via audio recording or transcription.

Contact us as early as possible to begin a conversation about how we can help make this opportunity accessible to you. Please contact Carly Newhouse, program & accessibility manager, at [email protected] or 612.238.8002.

Curious about what makes an activity accessible? Visit our Accessibility Center, especially the Handbooks + Checklists section, for resources and tips on accessible events, venues, and platforms.

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