The Shape of Us: Water Ways and Movements

To be published in Spring of 2022
Guest editors Ron Bechet and Mina Para Matlon

Full submissions will be accepted through October 29, 2021. To submit, register and login to the Open Journal Systems (OJS) portal.

Contact for username, password, or general assistance with OJS.

Public is a peer-reviewed, multimedia e-journal focused on humanities, arts, and design in public life. It aspires to connect what we can imagine with what we can do.

“We will face social and political storms we could not even imagine. The question becomes not just how do we survive them, but how do we prepare so when we do suddenly find ourselves in the midst of an unexpected onslaught, we can capture the potential, the possibilities inherent in the chaos…”

– Walidah Imarisha 

For the forthcoming issue of its multi-media journal Public, Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life (IA) invites a critical reflection on a subject of pressing concern across multiple political, economic, social, and environmental struggles for justice and equity: Water. Essential to all living systems, water scarcity impacts more than half of the world’s population, with droughts and severe flooding predicted to displace hundreds of millions of people within the next decade. From Texas to India, South Africa to Brazil, global warming and rising water levels are destroying livelihoods, exposing failures in governmental policies and public services, and drastically reconfiguring relationships to space, place, community, and identity. Water often shapes who we are – stories of the rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans that nurture and feed our bodies, hearts, and minds, and connect communities. Around the world people are mourning, and searching for new ways to relate to changing waterways.

In the United States, water protectors at the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline protests highlighted water’s interconnections to health, development, environmental stewardship, and self-determination though the call to action that ‘Water is life.’ The call continues to reverberate across movements, from the Food Justice Movement, to the anti-poverty work of the Poor People’s Campaign, to water’s emergence as a pillar of the Movement for Black Lives’ newly launched Red Black and Green New Deal agenda. Water is central to the current U.S. presidential administration’s plan for a vast investment in America’s crumbling public infrastructures. Facing collapsing and changing water systems, what are the possibilities inherent in the chaos? How might we reimagine and reshape the ways in which we situate ourselves in relationship to water?

This special issue will focus not only on our global water crisis, but on water as a guide to movement organizing and liberation work. In the face of constant, sometimes overwhelming uncertainty and change, emergent strategy practices developed by adrienne maree brown and others call us to, evoking Lao Tzu, ‘be like water,’ intentionally adapting to remain purposeful and impactful. Water reshapes according to context, moves past and breaks down hard objects, and is powerful or even dangerous in density and consistency. Drawing inspiration from water as a teacher, how might we employ water’s versatility to realizing equitable institutions and systems? And what does an education that supports water-based ways of thinking and working look like?

We seek scholarly and multi-media submissions from a variety of perspectives, with potential topics including:

  • How water connects us / connections through waterways
  • Community building through water
  • Water’s impact on our changing cultural landscapes and natural ecosystems
  • Narratives, traditions, and origin stories impacted by or centered around water
  • Practices, rituals, storytelling, or art making associated with mourning and loss of shrinking rivers and rising seas
  • Water as ancestor
  • Water, mutual aid, and radical caregiving
  • Art and design methodologies supporting equitable water systems
  • Building a cultural front for water equity
  • Creative or narrative approaches to reimagining and redesigning water rights, management, or policy
  • Cultural water systems like floating markets and living, surviving using water’s bounty
  • Learning methods, pedagogies, and organizing strategies informed by water


Employing the frameworks of the humanities, arts, and/or design, submissions may be authored individually or in collaboration and may take but need not be limited to the following kinds of submissions:

Principles and Practices: Critical pieces that foreground new ideas and provide examples of how they play out in practice.

Resources and Case Studies: Specific, replicable instances of effective and/or inspiring projects, programs, or teaching. May be as modest as a single assignment or syllabus, or as large as a multi-year, cross-sector, cross-disciplinary endeavor.

Reviews: Critical reflection of performances, books, websites, exhibitions, films, etc. (Note that acceptance of reviews is an editorial decision; these submissions are not peer-reviewed.)

Submissions can take diverse forms as long as they are linked to an exploration of the ways in which we shape and are shaped by water and employ the methodologies of the arts, design, and/or humanities. For example, discussions of principles and practices might be critical pieces in multiple media, narrative, or interview format. Feel free to propose experimental formats drawing from the properties of water. We can accept a wide variety of formats for consideration such as visual or performative; if you have any questions, please contact the guest editors at

Submission Process

Full submissions are due October 29, 2021 for peer review through our online submission portal at The guest and design editors will work with authors of accepted submissions through a process of revision and digital design in preparation for publication.

Journal Information

Mission Statement

Editorial Policies

Submissions Guidelines

Peer Review Process

Public is a peer reviewed open access journal of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life (IA). The mission of Public is to ‘prefigure’ the long haul vision of IA through critical, hopeful, and imaginative multi-media scholarship, storytelling, artmaking, and dialogue.

IA envisions a world of expansive social imagination, constructed by multiple ways of knowing, where people work together to nurture healthy, vibrant, and joyful communities. Towards that vision, IA brings together scholars, artists, designers, humanists, students, and organizers to imagine, study, and enact a more just and liberatory ‘America’ and world. Working across institutional, disciplinary, and community divides, IA strengthens and promotes public scholarship, cultural organizing, and campus change that inspires collective imagination, knowledge-making, and civic action on pressing public issues. By dreaming and building together in public, IA creates the conditions to shift culture and transform inequitable institutional and societal structures.

The Spring 2022 special issue is the first produced by the new editorial team for Public:

Erica Kohl-Arenas, Editor
Erin Syoen, Managing Editor
Pepiro, Design Editor

We thank the founding editors of Public – Jan Cohen-Cruz, Kathleen Brandt, and Brian Lonsway – for creating a platform whose form and function demonstrates the transformative power of engaged arts, design, and the humanities. We are inspired, humbled, and grateful to continue this work.