A modest federal grant awarded Tuesday to boost reading in Fresno County shows how lawmakers and the National Endowment for the Arts have turned the page from past battles.
For the Fresno County Public Library, the $15,000 grant will help retain a program called The Big Read. The Fresno library is the only San Joaquin Valley organization to receive a grant Tuesday, used to support a communitywide reading of a selected book.
"At the NEA, we know that the arts can help to create strong, vibrant communities by bringing people together," National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman said.
But arts advocates know that arts-funding questions can sometimes split Capitol Hill apart. While the NEA is no longer explicitly on the chopping block, it remains vulnerable to trims.
Therefore, federal arts administrators are emphasizing politically unassailable programs such as The Big Read while steering clear of the individual artists that once drew ire in Congress.
"The Big Read ... (is) among the cost-effective grant programs with broad, bipartisan congressional support," the House Appropriations Committee noted approvingly in its report on the fiscal 2013 NEA budget.
Seventy-eight nonprofits and libraries on Tuesday received Big Read grants totaling $1 million, which will be augmented by free readers' and teachers' guides, banners and audiotapes. Fresno's Big Read project will revolve around "Bless Me, Ultima," a coming-of-age novel. The book was stricken from the reading list at Orestimba High School in Newman amid much debate.
The San Joaquin Valley receives few grants compared to places such as the Bay Area, but Fresno-area farmer and author David "Mas" Masumoto was recently nominated as the San Joaquin Valley's first representative on the National Council on the Arts, which advises the arts agency.
Last year, invited by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Landesman became the first NEA chairman to visit Fresno, Merced and Modesto while in office.
Sun-Star Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or