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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.  

We are not accepting applications at this time.

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 17, 2024 (extended from January 10). 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 24, 2024 at 11:59pm Central Time.



Programming dates: September 1, 2024 – June 30, 2025

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, 2024, and June 30, 2025. Funded activities may be virtual or in-person. Each NEA Big Read applicant will be expected to:

1. Select a book from the NEA Big Read Library.

Describe why you chose the book, how it will resonate with your community and how it relates to one or more aspect of the theme WHERE WE LIVE (i.e., sub-themes):

  • The environment – a community’s physical/natural surroundings
  • The people – a community’s ancestors and/or current members (including, for example, those who recently arrived, whose familial roots go back generations, and those who left but still feel its pull)
  • Industry and Culture – landmarks, work centers, traditions, and other aspects that define a community
  • History – aspects of the past that have influenced a community, including legends
  • Alternate realities – an imagining of what a community could be or become

If you are a returning grantee, we encourage you to choose a title that you have not programmed in the past through the NEA Big Read.

2. Engage with community partners.

Each awarded organization must work in collaboration with local partners and artists to develop and conduct engaging literary and artistic programs that illuminate the theme WHERE WE LIVE. Applicants and community partners must promote their programming and outreach efforts to ensure community participation, inclusivity, and reach to broad and diverse groups.

Required partners:

  • 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.
  • At least one community organization or group that expands the applicant’s existing audience to include new participants of various abilities, ages, cultural backgrounds, education levels, and occupations.

Describe the role each partner will play and whether these partnerships are confirmed or pending. Examples of community organization partnerships include: YMCAs, schools, parent/teacher associations, local media outlets, parks and recreation departments, places of worship, unions, Kiwanis, Lions Clubs, local historical societies, etc.

3. Program events and activities related to your chosen book, the theme WHERE WE LIVE, and your chosen sub-themes with the intent of reaching wide and diverse audiences 

We encourage you to be imaginative with your programming. At a minimum, include:

  • One (1) public kick-off event to launch the program (e.g., a book giveaway, mayoral proclamation, etc).
  • At least three (3) book discussions.
  • At least one (1) presentation inspired by the book (e.g., a Q&A with the author, panel discussion, lecture, film screening).
  • At least one (1) artistic project or activity that engages the community and/or responds creatively to the theme WHERE WE LIVE and, if applicable, your chosen book (e.g., a visual art exhibition, theatrical performance, concert, poetry slam).
  • At least (3) creative writing workshops (topics might include: writing your family’s history, poetic responses to nature, Q&As with your neighbors, evoking worlds in sci fi that grapple with real-world challenges).
  • At least one (1) activity that allows community voices to be shared publicly (e.g., a public reading or anthology of selected pieces from the creative writing workshops; interviews with community members by a local writer featured in a local newspaper or on a local radio station; a website of archived community stories).

Several of these requirements can be met in one event (e.g., a presentation inspired by the book could include a book discussion). Describe the communities you plan to reach with your programs. Events and activities may take place virtually and/or in-person. Activities must be conceived with accessibility in mind for participants of all abilities and strive to reach audiences with limited access to the arts.


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 literary arts 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 assess an application’s proposed programming using the following criteria.
    • Relevance and rationale of the chosen NEA Big Read book.
    • The quality of diverse and imaginative literary programs that address the book, the theme WHERE WE LIVE, and the chosen sub-themes.
    • Whether or not all programming requirements have been met.
  • Depth of audience engagement. The panel will assess the relevance and depth of involvement with individuals and organizations, including project partners, using the following criteria:
    • Applicant’s efforts to foster new partnerships and broaden audience participation beyond the primary constituent base.
    • Applicant’s efforts to engage audiences of various abilities, ages, cultural backgrounds, educational levels, races, ethnicities, and occupations as partners and participants.
    • The variety of locations where programs will occur.
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. The panel will evaluate the applicant’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility as they relate to the proposed activities, partners, and audiences served.
  • 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 using the following criteria.
    • The applicant’s and partners’ functional capacity
    • The planning timeline
    • The participation of appropriate personnel
    • A reasonable budget plan that represents 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. Consultations are only available when we are accepting applications.

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.

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 John Kaiser, grants specialist, at [email protected] or 612.238.8024.

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.