This past year, Summer of the Arts (SotA) reached out extending a special opportunity for programming beyond its legendary and fabulous free summer festivals.
Funded in part by the Burford | Schwab fund at the Community Foundation of Johnson County and numerous local lead sponsors, SotA partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts to bring "The Big Read" to Johnson County.
The gripping novel, fitting for a City of Literature, featured "Fahrenheit 451" by prolific writer Ray Bradbury. The tale, which is both disturbing and poetic, transforms pulp fiction into a visionary parable of a society gone awry in which firefighters burn books and the state suppresses learning.
Lisa Barnes, executive director of SotA, says SotA launched the countywide read during Coralville's Winterfest, and offered a three-month series of activities, readings, discussions and movies at numerous locations. At the winter-time activity participants signed a pledge to read "Fahrenheit 451" and in return they received a free copy of the book. "We have lots of festival experience, but this was our first venture into literature as a timeless art form.
"Winterfest gave us the opportunity to distribute lots of books, Reader's Guides and postcards listing activities and events. Children who attended the wintertime festival loved creating bookmarks."
Activities covered book discussions at area libraries, film screenings and special events including performances by City Circle Acting Company and Senior Standing Room Only (SSRO) Readers.
Jeanette Pilak, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature executive director, says Bradbury was a productive writer of more than 80 books, anthologies, stories, poems and essays some of which were adapted to screen. "The Big Read and 'Fahrenheit 451' opened a discussion of literature and censorship so important in a City of Literature. Ironically Bradbury's own book had been repeatedly censored. The Iowa City Public Library has for many years sponsored a banned book week. I was proud our community was bringing awareness to the impact of all banned books.
"The Big Read's many partnerships offered Johnson County residents numerous opportunities to participate in literature and performance activities. The event shows the UNESCO designation is not just about the University of Iowa's writing program, but how the literary culture thrives in the area, and that culture is passed to our children"
Barnes agreed saying, "We are excited and grateful for the community's response and the many, many opportunities the program provided."