Big Read events draw big crowds through September

From left, 3-year-old Josie Molnar, Lynn Sweet and 2-year-old Ayrton Sweet color pictures of butterflies during the Big Read Morongo Basin kick-off Saturday at Mojave Desert Land Trust headquarters in Joshua Tree.

MORONGO BASIN — Close to 2,000 people took part in a month of events tied to the Morongo Basin Big Read in September, program director Marie Bobin reported.

“I have to say I was really excited by what was achieved this year,” Bobin said. 

“Our aim was to build community and inspire conversations. Because of the great diversity of our events and partners, we were able to reach residents who don’t normally participate in some of the arts activities in the Basin. Here we were able to bring some new people into the fold.”

The program was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and included art exhibits, readings and discussions, music, dramatic presentations and workshops. Most of the activities were built around one book.

Organizers handed out 500 copies of “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. The book tells the story of the aftermath of a pandemic that kills off 99 percent of the human population and destroys modern civilization.

It focuses on a band of wandering actors and musicians who move around the area of the Great Lakes performing classical music and plays by William Shakespeare.

The book inspired two art exhibits.

“Concourse C” will remain on exhibit through Oct. 20 at the Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, 58325 Twentynine Palms Highway.

“Survival Is Insufficient: Art After the Apocalypse,” will remain on exhibit through Oct. 11 at the Beatnik Lounge, 61568 Twentynine Palms Highway in Joshua Tree.

Activities also included a workshop on foraging for food from native plants at the Harrison House in Joshua Tree and organized readings and discussions of the book.

Events took place across the Morongo Basin, from Morongo Valley to Wonder Valley.

“We wanted to make sure people had access to the events not far from where they were,” Bobin said. “There is a problem of isolation in the desert.”

The largest single event of the celebration was the kickoff Sept. 7 at the Mojave Desert Land Trust headquarters in Joshua Tree.

“We were really happy about being able to make this an-all access event by making the books free and making all the programs free,” Bobin said.

The grant that funded the program didn’t require all events to be free, she pointed out. “That is something we decided to do. We wanted to lower the barrier of entry to that event.”

One change planned for next year will be to make more books available.

“People have started book swapping because there are none left,” she said.

Organizers also worked with Sparkgrowth, a local educational nonprofit, to bring activities into Morongo Basin schools. They were built around a children’s book, “I Am An Artist,” by Pat Lowery-Collins.

“We have gotten great feedback from all our partners,” she said, adding that if they are able to create another Big Read event next year they will work to get more organizations involved.

This year’s event involved 20 partner organizations and more than 100 artists.

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