The Matthews receives 2021 NEA Big Read Grant!

June 17, 2020

The Matthews Opera House is a recipient of a grant of $14,000 to host the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read in Spearfish. An Arts Endowment initiative in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. The Matthews is one of 84 national nonprofit organizations selected to receive an NEA Big Read grant to support a community reading program between September 2020 and June 2021. The NEA Big Read in Spearfish will focus on “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Activities will take place from January through early April 2021.

Along with the Matthews, Grace Balloch Memorial Library, and the Black Hill State University School of Arts and Humanities are project partners offering many NEA Big Read events from January through March 2021.

“This is the fourth NEA Big Read grant our organization has received and we are thrilled to continue this tradition in the Spearfish area,” said Darren Granaas, executive director at the Matthews. “‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ is not only a literary classic that can be enjoyed by all ages, but its themes allow us to plan some incredibly exciting events which you will hear more about soon.”

The last NEA Big Read the Matthews Opera House hosted in 2019 featured the novel “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. The book’s themes focused on the necessity and survival of the arts even during apocalyptic times, in addition to the impact a global pandemic could have on the world.

“In some ways it’s surreal that so much of our last NEA Big Read focused on a novel about a pandemic and now we are planning our next NEA Big Read during an actual pandemic,” said Kyler Flock, community engagement manager at the Matthews. “I think this speaks a lot to the relevancy of literature and the importance of communities coming together to read and explore texts deeper. This biennial event is one of our favorites, and we can’t wait to get NEA Big Read 2021 off the ground.”

Considering the unknown nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, Flock went on to explain that the Matthews is preparing to host a NEA Big Read regardless of any regulations on gatherings that may be put in place in the future.

“Right now a lot of organizations are realizing that it’s almost impossible to plan for the future because we just don’t know what things will be like even a month down the road,” Flock said. “However, we are dedicated to making sure our NEA Big Read programming happens. In order to ensure this, we will be developing a plan for in-person events and programming as well as contingency programming that could be done in a virtual setting if future regulations do not allow for gatherings. Our NEA Big Read is happening regardless of COVID, and we can’t think of a better way to escape this stressful time than through losing yourself in the pages of a book like ‘A Wizard of Earthsea.’”

“We have become even more aware this year of the important ways the arts help us connect with others, and how they bring meaning, joy, and comfort to our lives,” said Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “These 84 organizations leading NEA Big Reads will provide opportunities for deep discussion and ways to help us better understand one another.”

The NEA Big Read offers a range of titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery. The main feature of the initiative is a grants program, managed by Arts Midwest, which annually supports dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection.

“We are honored to continue our partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts on this incredible program,” said Torrie Allen, president & CEO of Arts Midwest. “For more than 14 years this national effort has invested in communities as they gather to discuss the stories and ideas that connect us to one another. We are especially inspired by the projects and organizations that are finding new, virtual ways of creating those connections with their communities and are thrilled to support them at this critical time.”

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,600 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $22 million to organizations nationwide. Over the past thirteen years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. For more information about the NEA Big Read, including book and author information, podcasts, and videos, visit

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

The Matthews Opera House & Arts Center is a 501c3 non-profit organization located at 612 N. Main Street in Spearfish, South Dakota.  To learn more about The Matthews either contact by phone, 605.642.7973 or their website at

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts 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 Arts Endowment 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. Visit to learn more.

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 non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 35 years. For more information, please visit

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