ACF and East Side Freedom Library launch “Immigration, Identity, and the Arts” with NEA Big Read

Two organizations centered on achieving equity and justice are joining together to lift up the stories and culture of immigrant communities in Minnesota and across the U.S. From September 2022 to September 2023, American Composers Forum (ACF) and East Side Freedom Library (ESFL) are hosting a series of events that bring together artists and community leaders in dialogue, music, and literature. Immigration, Identity, and the Arts features Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, as part of the NEA Big Read project. All events are free and open to the public. Video will be posted for online viewing.

ACF supports and advocates for individuals and groups creating music today — viewing music creators as storytellers who can help us connect as humans. The series emerged from ACF’s conversations with artists about the tension they’ve experienced when creating original art while honoring their cultural history; their desire to bring their family’s immigrant stories forward in their art; the dissonance between how the artist, and their music, is presented and how they self-identify; and the evolution of these challenges through second and third generations. The partners share the belief that art and literature are a powerful medium to learn about and develop empathy for the experiences of others, and incite action towards greater equity. East Side Freedom Library’s hosted gatherings and longtime community partnerships have demonstrated a desire for storytelling that will allow local residents and interested publics to learn more about the work and residential histories of our immigrant communities.

A centerpiece of the series is Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, as part of the NEA Big Read project. Several events will focus on the book itself, themes of this book, and additional stories including the Southeast Asian, Latin American, and East African immigrant communities in Minnesota. For ACF, this includes examination of who is included in the “American” part of our name.

All events are free and open to the public, and will be recorded and posted online. Print books are available for free at each event; for individuals unable to attend in person and for whom acquiring a book is a burden, please contact Xavier Muzik at [email protected].

Read more here, and sign up for ACF or ESFL newsletters for monthly updates.

About NEA Big Read

The National Endowment for the Arts Big Read is designed to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. American Composers Forum is one of 60+ nonprofit organizations to receive a grant to host an NEA Big Read project. NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

About American Composers Forum

ACF supports and advocates for individuals and groups creating music today by demonstrating the vitality and relevance of their art. We connect artists with collaborators, organizations, audiences, and resources. Through storytelling, publications, recordings, hosted gatherings, and industry leadership, we activate equitable opportunities for artists. We provide direct funding and mentorship to a broad and diverse field of music creators, highlighting those who have been historically excluded from participation.

Founded in 1973 by composers Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus as the Minnesota Composers Forum, the organization continues to invest in its Minnesota home while connecting artists and advocates across the United States, its territories, and beyond. ACF frames our work with a focus on racial equity and includes within that scope, but not limit it to, diverse gender identities, musical approaches and perspectives, religions, ages, (dis)abilities, cultures, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and broad definitions of being “American.” Visit and for more information.

About East Side Freedom Library

The East Side Freedom Library (ESFL) has its home in the former Arlington Hills library, one of St. Paul’s historic Carnegie library buildings at 1105 Greenbrier Street, located in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood.

The ESFL’s mission is to inspire solidarity, advocate for justice and work toward equity for all.  The library houses non-circulating research collections that appeal to interested general learners as well as scholars, with innovative databases and finding aids that make using the collections fun and vital.

Story is a major theme of the ESFL, and the telling and gathering of stories, through formal interviews, workshops, and small-scale public performances, will allow local residents and interested publics to learn more about the work and residential histories of the East Side.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, and is made possible thanks to generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.

You can support the work of ICIYL with a tax-deductible gift to ACF. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or

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