This issue is aligned with the theme of Imagining America (IA)'s 2013 conference, "A Call to Action," described as a future-oriented democratic revival. We invited submitters both to look backward to sources, methods, and ideas that energize them—a revival—and to look forward to more effective and energizing ways to do their most meaningful work. The result is an issue that foregrounds innovative steps people are taking to honor and reinvigorate long-held commitments to humanities, arts, and design in public life.
At Imagining America (IA)'s 2013 conference, we invited and challenged engaged artists, designers, and scholars from many fields to organize and pursue a democratic revival. The invitation still stands. And it's at the core of what we hope to inspire and facilitate in our role as faculty co-directors.
Given pushback we have received about our use of the term 'revival,' we want to emphasize that the revival we have in mind isn't religious. It's political. It's centered on the urgent work of imagining and creating a future that aligns with the deepest cultural and political ideals of a diverse people. What we seek to pursue in and through Imagining America is a revival that invites and challenges colleges and universities to see themselves as part of, rather than simply partners with, their communities. A revival that advances 'full participation' by linking and integrating—in the very architecture of our institutions—commitments to access, equity, inclusion, and diversity with the work of public engagement. A revival that focuses our energy, time, and resources on positive possibilities pursued through a practical and productive politics, even while it also opens up and sustains a critical discourse about pressing public issues and problems. A revival that exemplifies and builds what former Syracuse University Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor refers to as third spaces—open and public free spaces—where the work of democracy takes place.
In this transcription of the opening keynote conversation from the 2013 national conference, outgoing Syracuse University President and Chancellor, Nancy Cantor, and ChiefÂ Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, discuss their shared sense of optimism and hope in the face of a planet seemingly on the brink.Moderated by Dudley Cocke, Artistic Director of Roadside Theater/Appalshop.
In an unscripted conversation at Imagining America's 2013 national conference, Chief Oren Lyons and Chancellor Nancy Cantor spoke about the role of education and art in advancing social equity and about our collective responsibility for the natural environment. Jamie Haft and Cecilia Orphan, age 28 and 30 respectively, continue the custom of having next generation thinkers respond to the annual conference keynote. From her undergraduate experience in a professional performing arts training program, Haft writes about the interplay of culture and identity, and how certain knowledge is privileged at the expense of other ways of knowing. As a doctoral student, Orphan challenges the dominant assumption that academic prestige and quality are synonymous. While recognizing the opportunity to learn certain foundational ideas and ways of thinking and discovering in formal education, both call for higher education to open itself to new ways of seeing and knowing in order to realize more fully the public, democratic, and civic purposes of colleges and universities.
At its 2013 national conference, ""A Call to Action,"" IA experimented with a new approach to fostering engagement and capturing individual and collective actions advancing the democratic purposes of higher education. Throughout the three-day event, a core team tracked reports on generative themes, issues, and action opportunities provided by volunteer listener-reporters and session presenters. The core team designed participatory Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening plenaries to reflect this knowledge back to participants and engage them in dialogue about it.
Quoting from primary material and interviews with core team members and observers, the essay weaves together descriptions of the process with discussions of its impact, challenges, and potential adaptation to future gatherings in which action is a goal.
What if the United States fully supported and integrated arts and culture into all parts of American society, industry and government? In this act of collective imagination, we share the potential trajectory of a United States Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) from its launch to its dissolvement. While this Department may be new, the ideas motivating it are not. Countries around the world have robust ministries of culture from which we are learning as we develop the USDAC. At every moment of crisis and opportunity, artists and cultural workers have been eager to use their gifts in the service of democratic public purpose. In this project, we share the text and performance of our launch at a press conference in October 2013 and follow through to a State of the Arts speech in 2034 where we announce the irrelevance of USDAC.
Since the mid-1960s, with the founding of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the public humanities have focused on civic engagement through intellectual programs such as community conversations or scholarly lectures. However, a few innovative organizations have recognized a need for new means of reaching the public and have utilized play as the basis for their public humanities work, with positive effects on civic engagement. Using previously unstudied examples from state humanities council programs and others nationwide, this essay argues that play can be a powerful method for public humanists to revitalize democracy. As an emotionally engaging way of bonding people together, play creates social solidarity while enacting and envisioning new kinds of social relations. This essay also archives and connects disparate projects and serves as a call for more work that does the same in order to create spaces for public humanists to learn from each other.
This essay makes an argument for the value of public scholarship to the academic mission of scholarly research, to the development of civic engagement in the academy, and to community partnerships. It tells the story of a public history partnership between Bates College and a local museum in Lewiston, Maine, arguing that the process of producing historical knowledge with community members deepened the scholarly significance of the resulting exhibition and modeled the value of publicly engaged research as academic practice.
This reflective essay considers how working with sound changes traditional qualitative social science methods. Specifically, it examines how audio documentary interviewing differs from traditional ethnographic interviewing. Drawing on her experience as an academic and an emerging audio producer, the author describes the different kinds of sound required for this work, and discusses how the effort to capture that sound changes her strategies for building and establishing rapport with her interviewees.
The paper calls for art-making to start with community—as sources, partners, participating receivers, and co-creators. It proposes that dramaturgy, e.g., strategies for making plays, can include strategies for designing how stories are received and how audiences can effectively be invited to create with performers, combining imaginations in the act. The context of this call and proposal is the story of a project, called Building Home, based out of the Department of Theatre and Cinema in the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech in the New River Valley of Southwest Virginia. The project was a partnership with the New River Valley Planning District Commission. Besides the story of this unique partnership, the paper references two contemporary plays, highly influential for Building Home: Sally's Rape by Robbie McCauley, and On the Table by the Sojourn Theatre ensemble.
An update of the original 2005 Specifying the Scholarship of Engagement filtered through:
a framework of collaborative studio practices—"a project-based, culturally complex work with material outcomes";
the praxis of community-based performance, art, and design or the interconnections of theory and action;and
a primary focus on civic engagement.
Since 2006, Span 211 Advanced Spanish for Native Speakers has included a community-based learning component consisting of the translation of documents from English into Spanish for various community organizations. After a rocky start, the class instructor, along with a growing number of partners, developed a coherent project by promoting collaboration among primary stakeholders: faculty, students, academic institution, and community participants. As a result, the community collaborative translation component, which started as a minor component of the class, has evolved into a multi-year, cross-sector, cross-disciplinary partnership. By joining with different departments and centers at the college, we have increased our community involvement in health care, legal services, education, and the arts, providing our students with meaningful opportunities for linguistic, pre-professional, and civic development while meeting community needs. We explain the evolution of these partnerships in this paper.
Organized in 2009, Artists in Context (AIC) is a flexible organizational framework that assembles artists and other creative thinkers across disciplines to conceptualize new ways of representing and acting upon the critical issues of our time. AIC identifies eight of these issues—Nature, Health, Consumption, Justice, Learning, Belief, Nation, and Shelter—and supports both New England-based and national artists.
AIC's Artists' Prospectus for the Nation is an online project that captures this artistic practice. "Transforming Ways and Things" explores the ways in which the Prospectus builds upon the Collective of Sociological Art (1974–1979) in its meaning, and in its form recalls the alternative, portable, and accessible intent of Marcel Duchamp's Box in a Valise (1935–1941).
As the United States strives to manage difference, to exploit a flexible workforce, and to advance its imperial ambitions globally, the humanities and social sciences are the heart the matter, the keeper of the republic—a source of nationalist memory and normative forms of civility, cultural and communicative hegemony, neoliberal self-management and the common sense it promotes. That's not exactly how The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation begins, but it's close.
Before I even picked up my copy of Design and Ethics: Reflection on Practice, edited by Emma Felton, Oksana Zelenko, and Suzi Vaughan, I asked two of the most intriguing directors of schools of design in the United States what they thought were the critically important ethical issues and conundrums facing the field and practitioners today.
Their answers informed my reading of the fifteen engaging articles in this slim volume, and their astonishing responses opened me up to the unexpected. The book was even more surprising.