December 2016

by Anne Pope

Executive Director

Tennessee Arts Commission

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Big Read Kick Off Party with a scene from Clarence Brown Theatre’s stage adaptation of A Lesson Before Dying; Photograph by Jon Gustin; Courtesy of Knox County Government

To encourage lifelong learning, the Tennessee Arts Commission wants Tennessee schools and communities to know about two opportunities to participate in national programs from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a national recitation competition organized by the Commission in partnership with the NEA and the Poetry Foundation. Open to all public, private, and home-schooled students in grades 9–12, POL encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life.

I have seen firsthand what this can do for a student. In 2014, Anita Norman from Arlington, Tennessee, won the national competition, beating over 300,000 other students. Her father, Edward Norman, had this to say: “We told Anita that if she worked really hard, she would experience success. Her participation in POL has given her a new sense of confidence, motivating us as parents to continue encouraging our children to discover their passions.”

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TBR Kickoff Fantasy Faire open to community Photograph by Larry Kuzniewski; Courtesy City of Germantown, TN

Schools hold competitions to select a winner who competes in the Tennessee state competition. Winners of the state competitions then compete in a national competition held in Washington, D.C. Tennessee schools must register to participate by January 13, 2017. Students who will compete in the statewide contest must be registered by January 31, 2017. Visit tnartseducation.org/events/poetry-out-loud to learn more.

Another initiative of the NEA is the NEA Big Read that annually supports community-reading programs that each explores a single book. Over the past ten years, the NEA has supported more than 1,200 NEA Big Read projects across the country, with 4.2 million Americans taking part in these innovative community-wide programs

Nonprofit organizations are eligible applicants, such as arts centers, arts councils, arts organizations, colleges and universities, community service organizations, environmental organizations, fairs and festivals, faith-based organizations, historical societies, housing authorities, humanities councils, libraries, literary centers, museums, school districts, trade associations, and tribal governments. The book list consists of 28 titles, and authors hail from across the country representing a range of ages and ethnicities.

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2016 Poetry Out Loud winner Alexia Buckner from Bolton High School, Arlington, TN; Courtesy of Tennessee State Photography

I hope you will consider participating in this literary program. Harold Kushner got it right when he said, “I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense.”

The application deadline is Thursday, January 26, 2017, at 4 p.m. CST for NEA Big Read programs taking place between September 2017 and June 2018. Full details on eligibility and how to apply are available at neabigread.org/ application_process.php

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