The National Endowment of the Arts agency kicked off a program called “The Big Read” at Bell Arts Factory Friday night. This project hopes to inspire students from the community to read the same book over the next two months.
The book selected for this year’s “Big Read” is “The Things They Carried,” a collection of short stories by Tim O’Brian about a platoon of soldiers in the Vietnam War. More than a dozen veterans attended the event.
The program’s goal is to use this book as common ground to connect with people in their community whom they would not have otherwise met through a citywide book club.
Mayor Cheryl Heitman and Deputy Mayor Erik Nasarenko attended. Heitman formally opened the event.
“I think it’s a priority for our community to do everything we can for these veterans,” Heitman said. “We’re looking in to housing resources for veterans – homeless veterans as well as families of veterans.”
Nationwide, there has been a big decline in literacy in the past decade. According to The Atlantic, in 2013, 23 percent of Americans said they hadn’t read a book that year, compared to 16 percent in 2005.
Foothill’s freshman “Revolution” project aims to combat this decline by encouraging reading outside of school, but this alone is not enough. “The Big Read” hopes that the the “bandwagon effect” will set in if enough people take part.
After the opening addresses, a short film was shown by the Ventura Film Society. Later on that evening, there was a poetry reading.
Bell Art’s Community Room was decorated with sandbags, military netting, and unique art pieces made by Vietnam veterans.
One of these contributing artists was James Graca. Graca went into the Marines straight after high school.
“I was naive, I didn’t think I would go to war. I wanted to get into the art department and design recruitment posters,” he said.
Graca immediately started studying meditation when he returned, and now remembers the war, but isn’t caught in the past like so many other veterans.
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The first Friday of every month, Bell Arts has an open house called First Friday from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.
First Fridays are a great way for Ventura residents to get involved in their community. Although usually they aren’t as busy as this week’s, most artists will have their studios open and are more than willing to strike up a conversation.
Kyle Cabrera, a Foothill sophomore and frequent visitor of First Fridays, is wary of “The Big Read.”
“It’s kind of totalitarian. It’s weird to try to have everyone reading the same book,” he said, adding that it could take away an element of individuality.
Two other art shows opened at Bell Arts the same night. One was Mujer, a woman-empowering exhibit.
MB Hanrahan, a local artist known for her dreadlocks and charisma, worked on a piece for Mujer, which depicted multicolored “women” bathroom symbols.
“We’re taught that that’s the women’s symbol, but I don’t know a single woman that looks like that,” Hanrahan said.
The Vita Art Center at Bell Arts Factory also proudly opened a show Frank Romero, a well-known artist who’s had work shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“He was part of Los Four, who were really important with the Chicano movement,” said Mary Perez, owner of Vita Art.
This exhibit will be up through March 31.
Other artist’s galleries received more business than usual because of the big events.
Arlem, an imprinted 2-year-old male peacock, attended First Friday with his caretaker, Dawn Reily. Reily’s job is to educate the public about rehabilitated animals, but she also has a studio at Bell Arts where she makes feathered eyewear and jewelry. Reily was skeptical that everyone would read the chosen book, but thought that the community togetherness would be good for Ventura.
Many other “Big Read” events around Ventura will take place in the following weeks. For the full schedule, look here.