Welcome to the first issue of Public: A Journal of Imagining America! We aspire to be a space where a diversity of people exchange ideas and share projects integrating humanities, arts, and design in public life. We are mindful of the shortcomings of the very idea of a "public," from which whole groups of people have historically been left out. Public, as a platform of Imagining America, a consortium of some hundred colleges and universities, reflects the organization's commitment to creating a vocabulary and sharing initiatives that illuminate the work of public scholarship, making it recognizable apart from service. We support boundary-expanding artists, scholars, and designers whose contributions do not always "count" as knowledge and pedagogy in the academy. We include contributors based on their insights, whether they come from lived experience, rigorous study, or both. We are multimodal in that we appreciate not only words but also still images and moving pictures, maps and orality, as expressions of what we know and how we know it. The discourse we seek goes in both directions–by and for people in arts and cultural organizations, in colleges and universities, and in other public and community-based venues–with some submissions integrating several of these perspectives. Submissions are peer reviewed but we recognize, importantly–as IA founding director Julie Ellison and current co-director Timothy Eatman note in Scholarship in Public–that one's peers in public scholarship and practice are not all to be found in the academy. With reviewers from different professional and experiential locations, the likelihood of Public is a truly public journal increases. This, our first publication, is a double issue, designed to present a range of subjects, formats, and contributors germane to the journal project.
The development of Public has offered us incredible opportunities to engage design as a public act within an online interactive medium. As an e-journal, we had a gamut of examples to choose from: from seriously dry compendia of PDFs to experimental (some inspiring, some not quite functional) new media forays; from academic (and academically styled) journals to mass-media magazines. We have sought to position Public strategically and creatively in response to these various examples: as a robust, dependable, peer-reviewed e-journal with an experimental attitude in a publicly engaging interactive media format. Public foregrounds its informational infrastructure through an exploratory set of data visualizations. A print publication's table of contents and index are conventionally understood visual orderings of the 'data' it contains. They help us access the potentially large and complex body of data by visually associating page numbers with chapters, articles, or terms. The electronic archive's equivalent to the table of contents is an interactive data visualization, facilitating multiple forms of relational indexing based on a participant's interactions. This first issue of Public offers two visualizations in addition to the more traditional table of contents. The visualizations complement a conventional search function, and are meant to encourage alternative explorations of the implicit connections among the contributions. These visualizations will remain, in one form or another, over the life of the journal. As Public's body of published material grows, these visualizations will reveal increasingly deeper and differently inflected meanings among the diverse works in its archive. Finally, these visualizations constitute a curatorial role; as designed frameworks through which one experiences the journal's contents, they help construct meanings and relationships in different ways, building upon and highlighting the multiplicities, diversities, and pluralities that are at the core of the work of our contributors. We see many opportunities to substitute or expand upon the two visualizations that anchor our first issue, and call upon our many constituencies to consider other ways of experiencing the growing archive towards the fostering of public knowledge. We offer an open call to web developers and programmers to inquire about or submit visualizations for inclusion in our journal. As an open-access publication built on open-source software we encourage public participation in the future of the journal.
Syracuse University is located in Onondaga Nation territory, the heartland of the Haudenosaunee ("People of the Longhouse"). Onondaga is among the last few remaining indigenous communities in the world that continue to govern themselves with their ancient ceremonial process. When Chancellor Nancy Cantor arrived here in 2004, she immediately realized the importance of this community. She set in place the Haudenosaunee Scholarship Program for students who have grown up in Haudenosaunee territories throughout New York and Canada. She supported events such as the Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future series (2006 and 2010) and the Roots of Peacemaking: Indigenous Values, Global Crisis (2006–2009). In innumerable other ways, Chancellor Cantor has supported a close relationship between SU and the Onondaga Nation-something that has been unique in SU's history.
There is a natural affinity between the work of Imagining America, hosted these last six years at Syracuse University, and the interdisciplinary work of promoting indigenous communities. An immediate relationship was established between us. Under the directorship of Jan Cohen-Cruz, IA supported many of the events mentioned above. This has continued with IA's involvement of the Nation in its annual conferences. The Haudenosaunee have been formally credited by the US Congress as having inspired the founding fathers in the development of democracy and as having influenced the women's movement in the United States. In spite of the rhetoric of Native Americans having disappeared from the culture of the United States, in fact we have always had a deep, ongoing relationship with the Haudenosaunee. The work of Imagining America is just as much a look back into our shared past as it is a step forward into the future.
Our hope is to bring the cultural brilliance of the Haudenosaunee into authentic and appropriate conversations with contemporary artists, academics, activists, and others who are working toward cultural transformation. The e-journal format is a dynamic and brilliant way to promote this dialogue. The Skä-noñh-Great Law of Peace Center-at Onondaga Lake, the site of the founding of the "Great Law of Peace," is looking forward to promoting an intercultural dialogue on social change through this important new medium. What took place at Onondaga Lake thousands of years ago in the formation of the Great Law of Peace has just as much importance today as it ever has. We recognize alignment between our deep values and those articulated by this new undertaking and we welcome the journal as a new friend of the Nation.
I first became captivated by the notion of "critical generosity" when reading my friend and colleague David Román's (1998) Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS. David not only engaged performances about HIV/AIDS and the politics of gay male and queer culture but also modeled how such engagement might benefit the artists and productions about whom he wrote as well as the spectators and audiences who saw their work. I remember keenly reading David's account of seeing Tony Kushner's Angels in America with his friends in Los Angeles, several of whom were HIV positive. He described with love and concern how they took care of themselves while watching a marathon showing of the two-part, epic play. The way David detailed their viewing context made manifest and material how our bodies sit in front of performance, with friends, lovers, and strangers, and the attention they require to be sustained. David's friends kept an eye on their medication schedules and hydration and nutrition levels, maintaining their corporeal realities as the performance nurtured their hearts and minds. Critical generosity, then, extended not only to the production but also to David's reception context, in all its specific materiality.
David's formulation of critical generosity became integral to my own thinking about how to give back to the performance cultures about which I write and about how to draw out their borders, boundaries, and beauty as evocatively as I could. When I led the Performance as Public Practice graduate program at the University of Texas at Austin, I worked with Paul Bonin-Rodriguez and Jaclyn Pryor to extend and develop our own riff on the practice. We called this "colleague criticism" and suggested a process more like dramaturgy, in which critics and artists would clarify for readers their knowledge of one another's work and comment with a deeper understanding of where it comes from and how it arrives onstage. Our thoughts came partly from living in a relatively small city where artists and critics tend to know one another. In other words, we suggested demystifying critical engagement and productively mining the complex and often intimate relationships that inevitably develop between critics and artists. Pretending that we don't have ongoing professional relationships seemed to us hypocritical, while investigating and trying to sort out and honor those connections pointed toward a work ethic that might be widely useful.
I continue to find critical generosity an ethical rubric through which to think and write about performance. As a feminist critic, I confront a number of stereotypes. "Feminist," of course, always needs renovation and justification, precariously poised as it is against the mass-media hysteria that strategically denigrates it. But "critic," too, bears its own history of negative presumption. The deleterious effects of criticism are underscored by mainstream writers such as Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood in the New York Times, who revel in their power to destroy productions they don't like for reasons that are always political, as well as aesthetic, and always masked by the "objectivity" that power bestows on their work.
Against such entrenched practices and stereotypes, critical generosity stands as a refreshing and, I hope, principled alternative. When I describe the more generous critical practices to which I commit for my blog, The Feminist Spectator (www.TheFeministSpectator.com), people invariably laugh with surprise (and I hope delight); hearing that a critic wants to be generous sounds counterintuitive. I save whatever critical vitriol I sometimes muster for mainstream pop culture that other critics laud without seeing its sexism, racism, or homophobia. Because my time and energy for blog writing is limited, I mostly write about productions and performances (or films and television shows) that I liked. To write positively about what you see and still call yourself a critic seems contradictory. What a sad state of affairs for arts discourse.
At the same time, I don't consider critical generosity boosterism. Critical generosity can be useful for those of us committed to the arts as social engagement, with deep beliefs in its ability to reach people, change minds, affirm alternate visions of how we live in the world, and deliver hope in the potential of a different, more universally equitable future. Our critical engagement in such cases needs to be precise, productive, and generative, rather than blandly cheerleading for anything that seems to fit a progressive political agenda. In The Feminist Spectator in Action: Feminist Criticism for the Stage and Screen (Dolan 2013), I offer a "how-to" guide that atomizes critical generosity. Why does a production work? How does it seem to reach its audience? How can we tell that an audience was moved? How do we think about efficacy outside the theater or the performance, even as we propose that something tangibly moving (emotionally and politically) happened within it? In other words, critical generosity doesn't devolve into nonspecific "It was good" pablum but tries to parse how and why a performance seemed to work in a way that generated a productive kind of political hope through its aesthetic strategies.
In Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre (Dolan 2005), I wrote about performances at which I felt the audience and I were moved to see what I described as a fleeting vision of a better world, one we could experience together, in the moment of performance. Most readers recognized that feeling of empowerment and hope, while at the same time, they wondered along with me how that structure of feeling might be profitably moved outside the theater into the public sphere. The relationship between what we experience at the theater and how we practice our politics, between the world-changing potential of performance and the world changing we might want to do in our communities, remains a site of experimentation at which those relationships are formed and reformed performance by performance, community by community. But I feel keenly that critical generosity is a necessary gesture in how we see the relationship of performance (and the arts in general) to the project of world building, as it allows us to think specifically beyond the present of reception into the near future of potential activism and engagement. Generous criticism, then, also considers how we imagine the afterlife of performance.
Critical generosity can extend to the whole meaning-making apparatus that comprises the arts. I try to form relationships with the people about whom I write, especially if they work in subcultures without access to rich resources. I try to balance advocacy with engagement, so that in whatever small way, I might help move their work forward aesthetically as I try to call attention to it politically. My colleague Alisa Solomon recently suggested that pointing out what "doesn't work in a performance you care about can be as critically generous as describing what does. From this perspective, critical engagement becomes a strategy for dialogue, not just between the critic and the artist but also hopefully among a community of spectators and writers and arts makers who see themselves as part of a larger project of world making in which every production, every piece of art, matters."
Dolan, Jill. 2005. Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
–––. 2013. The Feminist Spectator in Action: Feminist Criticism for the Stage and Screen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Román, David. 1998. Acts of Intervention: Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
The 2012 Imagining America National Conference was framed as an inquiry: What might bring together higher education—which comprises so many types of institutions—and culturally generative communities—which refer to myriad forms of affinity and identity—to recognize difficult histories, articulate shared predicaments and possibilities, and move toward a more welcoming future? Could they partner on equal terms toward a mutually beneficial vision of society? A better grasp of what has divided campus and community and what might bring them together on more equitable terms lies in a critical understanding of the trajectories of knowledge and institutional foundation, especially nonprofit organizations and the socially creative values borne by various conceptions of culture and community. What follows is a brief reflection on some dilemmas facing higher education, nonprofit organizations, and culture and community before considering a few ways in which Imagining America might address these challenges through its own efforts.
In “Inquietudes – on Being Uneasy,” Dr. Marta Vega expands upon her remarks from the opening plenary, expressing uneasiness with the use of the word community as a substitute for minority groups and the idea of community engagement in the context of higher education. Too often seen as some place one goes rather than is already a part of, community engagement becomes about “the other.” She goes on to consider which communities are valued, which are devalued, and why. While affirming the concepts and initiatives of community and civic engagement at a higher education level, she warns against detaching them from the traditions, cultural values, and core principles of the communities being partnered with. Pointing out that the same time universities are seeking community partnerships, they are destroying communities through gentrification, she calls on higher education to express the value of cultural organizations through actions that help sustain them.
"Reflections" is a series of exchanges, catalyzed by Marta Vega’s presentation at the 2012 Imagining America Conference, among two distinct but intimately tied networks that IA has helped to connect: graduate students of IA’s Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) program and members of Ashé College Unbound—a college degree program run at and through the Ashé Cultural Arts Center. These reflections are followed by notes from an IA panel—“Learning to Speak, Learning to Listen”—that bookends the conversation Vega’s remarks launched. Themes include:
What is community?
What does “community” see?
What is an appropriate language of community building within and connected to higher education?
How can graduate students best reposition themselves within the academy and within Vega’s discourse on community and power?
Who is at “the table”?"
Professor Jack’s Walking Cure recreates historian Jack Tchen’s image-driven introduction to New York City which preceeded visits to sites of community-campus partnerships throughout the five boroughs at the 2012 conference. Avowing that academics need to take in the world through their senses, Tchen signals architectural and geographic landmarks we may encounter that bring the past into the present and the present closer to the future. His touchstones are seen from multiple perspectives: above, at street level, from those without power, and through nature itself. Reiterating the limits of an academic way of knowing, Tchen urges us to pay attention, too, to the people and places that surround us in everyday life. He asks, “Can we develop an IA-style walking practice that engages all our senses linking the best of academic and community-based knowledge in a shared, trustworthy understanding of NYC, in its daily contestations land use and meaning-making?"
Art Gave Permission to Agitate, a conversation with Pam Korza and three members of the Cultural Studies Praxis Collective, takes a series of books generated by Korza and the Animating Democracy Initiative as a starting point for a discussion of questions central to the community engagement and public scholarship movements in higher education today. What is the relation between civic dialogue and social change? How are collaborations and project-based work across institutions and sectors best sustained? How can evaluation and assessment practices contribute to – not distract from – the goals of a given project? What role does art and culture play in struggles for social change and social justice? What can institutions of higher education contribute to these struggles?
This essay discusses our work on the digital archive, The Fight for Knowledge: Civil Rights and Education in Richmond, Virginia, which grew out of our five-year documentary theater project at the University of Richmond. We include the voices of six collaborators—students, a special collections librarian, a digital archivist and faculty members—to closely examine the multiple archives that have grown out of this project, and the way this has led us to propose a new way of thinking both about archives and about our documentary theater methodologies. This collaborative process has helped us to reconceptualize the relationship between archive and theater and enriched our thinking about both archive creation and documentary theater practices. Our hope is to inspire critical questions about history, memory, and justice—to make sense of the lived experience of interviewees through archival materials and to make sense of archival materials in the context of personal history.
This examination of the Michael C. Carlos Museum (MCCM) in the context of Emory University’s commitment to engaged learning and community engagement, specifically with Atlanta area Latino/Hispanic communities, has implications for community partnerships generally. We examine the 10-year long partnership between the Museum and local K–12 schools with large Latino/Hispanic populations as mediated by Emory University’s faculty and staff most recently located within the Center for Community Partnerships. We contend that programs in the MCCM facilitated by the education department could be used as a model going forward that demonstrates multiple shifts and transformations in the role of the campus museum and its relationship both with the university and with the community. We present possibilities for the MCCM and other museums at institutions that aspire to be “engaged campuses” to more fully align their missions with that goal.
This 16-minute video explores four years of emerging pedagogy and methodology for community-based art and design practice. Mobile Studio is an intermedia, co-creative collective actively representing, reinterpreting, and reimagining Alabama landscapes in the field. Through this process the studio advances the delicate work of creating and sustaining reciprocal partnerships between academic and community partners, and civic and political leaders. Findings suggest that a commitment to lifelong learning is integral to creating the scaffolding necessary to engage the arts and politics of place-making. Common Ground in Alabama reports on the long-term goals and missions of Mobile Studio through the media of film to traverse time and reveal diverse perspectives.
This article analyzes the “Art Race Space” symposium which faculty members in Indianapolis organized in January 2013. In 2007, a civic agency commissioned renowned artist Fred Wilson to create E Pluribus Unum, a piece of public art for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Four years later, after extensive public controversy about issues of race, power, history and representation, the commissioning agency cancelled Wilson’s commission. Faculty members organized the symposium to focus on issues of art, race, and space, concepts which were foundational to the controversy. They drew inspiration from practices of engaged dialogue developed at museums and historic sites. Instead of a traditional academic symposium, the organizers created a hybrid event that combined university and community resources, expertise, and communication practices and brought together diverse voices in constructive conversation about the challenging issues surrounding E Pluribus Unum.
In Kevin Bott’s interview, Bill Aguado, director for 30 years of the Bronx Council on the Arts, asserts the importance of including the independent artist in Imagining America’s thinking and planning. Aguado points out that the consortium’s name suggests an inclusivity regarding all artists “in public life.” But with the voice of the independent artist absent, which is largely the case within IA, Aguado asserts that the consortium excludes cultural agents who have significant insights into “community action and revitalization,” as per the organization’s mission. Aguado explains the difference between artists and CBOs and different strategies for engaging each. Aguado suggests concrete actions for strengthening artist–academy partnerships, recommending that faculty and students begin by recognizing and engaging “the community” working on their own campuses—cafeteria workers, physical plant workers, and others—who also have culture, perspectives, and values akin to those often sought “out in the community.”
The Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP) at the University of Oregon is premised on universitiesÕ untapped capacity to catalyze community change and address daunting and urgent social challenges. University courses, arguably the largest source of creativity and capacity in higher education, are often underused and unnecessarily isolated from community engagement. SCYP bridges the gap between university and community by relying on existing classes, existing instructors, and existing curricula to work with communities on community-identified and driven projects. While many engage with communities, the SCYP template radically expands the nature of the engagement and the degree of impact. It annually harnesses more than 500 students across more than 10 disciplines to give at least 60,000 hours addressing sustainability issues identified by city staff within a single community each year. This article offers university and community perspectives, delineating the gist of what could be a new model for publicly engaged scholarship nationally.
Community art is an emerging field that often lacks definition and a body of research that describes its impact. Though there are some prominent studies of art that are beginning to shape policy and investment on a community level, schools have not seen a shift in tides toward more investment in art. To increase stakeholder understanding and to inspire investment in the field, a video study of longtime community arts practitioners and accompanying research was conducted. This research offers definition and an outline of observed outcomes of the field. Efficacy, engagement, empowerment, and sense of community are among the impacts noted. These outcomes seem to have the potential to fill an important gap in youth settings and are worth highlighting and exploring further so that art might be used more strategically as a tool rather than being reserved for the privileged.
After a brief introduction, I synopsize selected writings about publicly engaged scholarship useful for designers, especially those of us who teach in colleges and universities. Focusing on an emerging social practice agenda, I point out that design programs of all scales and types can provide students with community-engaged experiences. Doing so opens pathways for student designers to learn valuable lessons as contributing democratic citizens, positively affecting change for our communities near and far. I then share a case study of an interior design studio I facilitated, embedding social practice and linking to advances in higher education to shape meaningful experiences for our students.
First Street Green (FSG) is a group of community residents that came together in 2008 to transform the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation-owned vacant lot at 33 East First Street in Manhattan from a rat habitat into a maintainable plaza and cultural space/Art Park. The video that follows captures the creativity of collaborative problem solving.
FSG’s goal was achieved with the hosting of the BMW Guggenheim Lab in 2011. During the Lab we held a series of What’s Next? workshops to discover what kinds of activities the community wanted in the new park. FSG supports the Art Park by providing programming for and with the community, focusing on cultural and educational events involving all of the arts, while also serving as a public forum for ideas.
FSG is an all-volunteer group seeking 501c3 status. Core members include University professors and we have forged connections with several Universities.
The resource described here is a prototype for a “field guide” to what makes food good, focusing on how to identify someone else’s “good,” even (or especially) if you don’t think you agree with that person. I provide some background to the project of developing this field guide, and then describe the tool itself and some implications and challenges involved in using it. I focus on ways the tool addresses interaction between competing perspectives on what makes food good, and the values different constituencies prioritize as they attempt to institutionalize their vision of a good food system. My collaborators and I hope that the resource may form the backbone of an online interface for organizing the mushrooming food system knowledge bases relevant to regional food networks. This project exemplifies the move toward engaged interdisciplinary scholarship that benefits from the interaction of people within and beyond higher education.
During the past ten years, there have been significant essays and books on socially engaged art, as well as a broad spectrum of social practices that emanate from the interdisciplinary interests of artists and scholars. Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics projects an important, refreshingly open-minded perspective and productive space of inquiry amid often clashing ideological positions. The book is a collection of seven independent, thoughtfully coordinated essays that examine the unsettled, yet generative conditions of public life and social practices in contemporary art. Throughout the book, the author reveals infrastructure, economies, and different forms of support as bridges that span projects, passages, and prevailing positions. Shannon Jackson, a professor of Rhetoric and Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies and director of the Arts Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, constructs a calculated and balanced performance that moves nimbly between theory and practice through critical attention to recent developments in the areas of visual art, public art, community-based practices, and variable concepts of theater and performance in the public realm. This book is a significant resource for artists, theorists, activists, scholars, and others who are interested in the challenging vagaries and rich possibilities of public life. Her inquiry and analysis of the institutions, economies, collectivities, and contingencies seek to challenge and embolden readers to be increasingly sensitive, attentive, critical, and committed to work in the public realm. Rather than envisioning aesthetics and politics, ethically accountable work and artistic independence, community engagement and radical resistance, and the literal and conceptual as vexed and irreconcilable oppositions, she clears pathways to rethink and freshly imagine how the deeply interdependent relationships of social works have rich and exponential effects.