On stage

Katherine Wheeler, left, Kurt Schauppner, Cassidy McCarron and Ann Van Haney share the stage for the Thought Theatre production of "The Traveling Symphony," part of The Big Read, a month-long celebration of literacy.

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

The program, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, included art exhibits, readings and discussions, music, dramatics 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 which kills off 99 percent of the human population and destroys modern civilization.

It focuses primarily on a band of wandering actors and musicians who wander 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 at the Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, 58325 Twentynine Palms Highway, through Sunday, Oct. 20.

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

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

“I have to say I was really excited by what was achuieved 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.”

Events, she noted, 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. There is a problem of isolation in the desert.”

The largest single event of the celebration, she said, was the kickoff hosts Sept. 7 by the mojave Desert Land Trust in Joshua Tree.

“We were really happy abouit being able to make this an all access event by making the books free and making all the programs free,” she said, noting that this was not a requirement of the grant that funded the program. “That is something we decided to do. We wanted to lower the barrier of entry to that event.”

One change planned for next year, she said, will be to increase the number of books that are made available to participants.

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

Organizers also worked with Sparlgrowth to bring activities into Morongo Basin schools, built around a second 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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