Public cofounders Kathleen Brandt, Brian Lonsway, and I mourn with heavy hearts the passing of our very dear colleague and Imagining America National Advisory Board member Randy Martin. A dancer and a scholar, with a warm spirit and an incisive mind, an idealist and an activist, it was Randy who suggested that Imagining America create "collaboratories" in order to generate participatory initiatives, one of which led to the creation of this journal. Very dear Randy, you will be deeply missed.
Turning to other acknowledgements, we take this opportunity to thank Eric Spina, who stepped down as Provost and Associate Chancellor of Syracuse University (SU) at the end of 2014, having served in that position since 2004. Eric offered Public its first institutional home at SU. We are grateful for his enthusiasm regarding Public and wish him well in future endeavors.
Indeed, 2014 was a year of leadership change at SU. I have observed what happens when one chancellor leaves an institution and another comes in. Priorities change; programs and people rise and fall. What was praised one day becomes a little dangerous to do the next, and what was marginalized before is now prioritized. This phenomenon is characteristic not only of higher education as a system; we see it in the political sphere, and in much of organizational culture.
Do I conclude that academia is inescapably top-down? No. Rather, I am more convinced of the efficacy of culture change over top-down decrees to make certain practices possible under any leader. Culture change requires long, slow work, emanating from multiple points in an organization's hierarchy; by finding who shares particular values, philosophies, and pedagogies and is trying to operationalize them through their respective positions. That is, those who seek to raise up particular values and practices do well to carefully collaborate with people at all levels of the hierarchy—students, staff, administrators, tenured and non-tenured faculty, chairs, deans, and colleagues at "peer" institutions—who are open to furthering such a vision through their actions.
"Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun," wrote anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973, 5), and that web is a cultural ecosystem, not so easily dismantled. The slow work of building a web of like-minded approaches to teaching, scholarship, and the elusive idea of "the public good"—all core to a university's purpose—animates a vision capable of living on after any leader comes or goes. The levels of support such initiatives garner will ebb and flow, but if built into how an institution, on multiple levels, does its work, it is complicated indeed to undo entirely.
The current issue of Public, Organizing. Culture. Change., echoes the theme of Imagining America's 2014 national conference in Atlanta. The contents are evidence of people working at all different points in their respective institutions for changes that reflect greater equity and participation in public life. The issue begins with the conference keynote by Doug Shipman, CEO of Atlanta's Center for Civil and Human Rights, on the role of story in advancing civil rights. Next is a response by a cohort of graduate students, all Imagining America Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) fellows, who foreground the ideas of collective memory and engaged storytelling in their own diverse efforts in performance studies, English literature and composition, history, American studies, visual studies, ethnic studies, and religious ministry. Furthering themes from the opening plenary of the conference, Erica Kohl-Arenas of The New School, Harry Boyte of Augsburg College and Public Achievement, and Carlton Turner of the community-based arts network Alternate ROOTS discuss discuss democracy and education, change from within, and change from without, also looking at possible collaboration between communities and higher education towards progressive ends. Then Maria Avila, Kevin Bott, and Vialla Hartfield-Mendez describe weaving together, organizing, the arts, and university culture in order to plan the 2014 conference, itself meant to catalyze further organizing in higher education.
The contributions that follow, foreground the roles of the arts, design, and humanities in making higher education more equitable and accessible. In "Towarrds a Social Practice," Marion Wilson describes the trajectory of her art practice and its development into a socially engaged curriculum at Syracuse University. She then discusses the notions of neighboring, art, and social change with Rick Lowe, recipient of a 2014 McArthur Fellowship. A series of case studies that share organizing, culture, and change as keystones follow. In "Public Life through a Prison/University Partnership," David Coogan writes about bringing his college writing students into local jails for cultural inquiries across the physical and ideological barriers that keep such constituencies apart. Joan Jeffri's "ART CART: Saving the Legacy" is about a multi-university, intergenerational project that connects aging professional artists with teams of advanced students in order to undertake the preservation of the artists' creative work. In "Lost Stories and Cultural Patrimony," UC-Berkeley instructor Patricia Steenland considers what makes her and her students' partnership with Owens Valley Paiute tribal elder and water activist Harry Williams successful. In "Citizen Stories: A New Path to Culture Change," Alex Olsen, Elizabeth Gish, and Terry Shoemaker interrogate their curricular approach to culture change within a civic engagement framework, through a deceptively simple two-part assignment. In "ReImagine A Lot," Claudia Paraschiv recounts engaging residents in Salem, Massachusetts, to imagine what a local abandoned lot could be. Lastly, Ben Fink reviews Democracy's Education, a compilation of new essays about public work in higher education, edited by Harry C. Boyte.
Stories have the power to shape perceptions we hold of ourselves, of others, and of history shared across generations. In his keynote address to the 2014 Imagining America national convention, Doug Shipman, the CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia, shares lessons from key episodes during the history of the modern American civil rights movement and insights from the nine-year effort to build the new Center. Through the retelling and interpreting of these stories, Shipman demonstrates and explores how those working for social change can use history for inspiration, and how they should think of their work within the context of empowering individuals to both change the world and subsequently reconcile with those opposing change once realized. The Question and Answer session further explores how individuals should think of their role in larger social movements.
This piece responds to the 2014 Imagining America conference keynote by Doug Shipman, founding Chief Executive Officer of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Shipman argued that engaged storytelling, which explains how historical conflicts can teach us to better understand and address present confrontations, has potential for scholars, activists, and artists whose work engages with social justice.
The contributors, 2014–2015 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) fellows, draw from performance studies, English literature and composition, history, American studies, visual studies, ethnic studies, and spiritual ministry to frame personal experiences with engaged storytelling alongside other themes and questions that they identified through group dialogue. They examine the efficacy of narrative experience, question traditional historical representations, and encourage the next generation's interest in history and social justice.
In response to questions raised at the opening plenary of the 2014 Imagining America Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Erica Kohl-Arenas of The New School, Harry Boyte of Augsburg College and Public Achievement, and Carlton Turner of Alternate ROOTS came together to discuss how universities and communities might join in a common movement towards cultural, social, political, and economic justice and deeper democracy. We addressed the creative tensions between confronting unequal systems of power (including stratification in public schooling, rising student debt, and technocratic career-focused learning) and transforming institutions from the inside out. Addressing problems of today, we shared stories from our work about the role of civic education and cultural organizing in democratizing communities, classrooms, and higher education.
The authors describe the three-year organizing process leading up to the 2014 national conference in Atlanta, GA. Catalyzed by a campus visit by then-IA director Jan Cohen-Cruz in 2012, Emory University staff and faculty member Vialla Hartfield-Mendez spearheaded an effort to bring energy and meaning to Emory’s IA membership. This effort dovetailed with IA’s emerging focus on organizing as a vehicle for effecting culture change in higher education. What transpired was an experiment between Emory University, Imagining Amercia, and Maria Avila, a scholar and longtime organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation. The experiment sought to understand how broad-based and cultural organizing practices would affect: Emory, the conference host; the conference itself and what it was able to accomplish; and Imagining America as it continued to explore organizing practices in higher education as a central component of its national work.
Wilson discusses the trajectory of her art from studio-based, to integration into an art and architecture curriculum at Syracuse University, to a social practice embodied by a physical space that engages with its low-income neighborhood. Then Wilson and McArthur Award winner Rick Lowe discuss art that might be seen as a form of neighboring.
This essay describes the inner workings of a prison-university partnership that brings service-learning college courses in the humanities into a city jail. It explains how the program, Open Minds, operates practically, and then offers a window into one of the courses—a writing workshop where students construct and critique what Marshall Ganz calls the "stories of us" across the cultural and institutional barriers that would otherwise disable them from writing and sharing and imagining change.
ART CART: Saving the Legacy is an intergenerational arts legacy project that connects aging professional artists with teams of advanced students to undertake the preparation and preservation of their creative work, and to help shape the future of our American cultural legacy. Piloted at Columbia University in 2010–2011, it was repeated in 2012–2013 in the New York and Washington, DC metro areas with 20 artists ages 63–100 and 40 student fellows and will be replicated in these same metro areas in 2015, moving towards national replication. With a focus on art, education, health, and aging, it posits that older artists are models for society and acknowledges that those born before 1940 are unlikely to speak of their substantial creative lifetimes as "careers."
Community scholarship has gathered increasing interest in academic circles, but little study has been given to what makes for a successful ongoing partnership and a true collaboration. This article proposes to examine a working partnership that has developed over three years at the University of California Berkeley, between an instructor at the university, Patricia Steenland, and the Owens Valley Paiute tribal elder and water activist Harry Williams. Williams' work has sparked students' imagination and led to major research projects, including a documentary film. Since then the partnership has become a collaborative project, involving also the exciting exploration of archival documents at Berkeley's Bancroft Library related to Paiute history. Students involved in research projects help to restore the archival memory of traditions and texts lost to the Paiute over time. The collaborative project now involves not only Steenland and Williams, but also students and Bancroft curators.
This article offers a case study of a citizen stories assignment implemented by the authors at Western Kentucky University in Spring 2014. It describes the parameters of the assignment, several outcomes, and how the assignment approached the challenge of culture change within a civic engagement framework.
The ReImagine A Lot dynamic participation project strove to engage residents of a marginalized neighborhood in Salem, Massachusetts to imagine what an abandoned lot could be. The project consisted of two parts that reinforced each other: the first part was a physical component that provided the space for the second, civic-social events; in turn, these social events provided the workforce to create and maintain the physical component. Over the course of eight weeks, various stakeholders evolved as they helped build a mural, a community bulletin board, seats, and a suggestion board.
The space and the project served supportive roles for the community participation that developed, reinforcing Hannah Arendt's articulation that action is not "the beginning of something, but somebody" (Arendt 1958, 177). Although participatory projects are prolific in American neighborhoods, there is a lack of critical public discourse. This multi-media project collage suggests a methodology by which we might understand such community actions.
Democracy's Education: Public Work, Citizenship, and the Future of Colleges and Universities, a compilation of new essays about public work in higher education edited by Harry C. Boyte, often feels like it was written explicitly for readers of Public. And in a way, it was. Among its wide roster of contributors are Imagining America codirectors Timothy K. Eatman and Scott J. Peters, who contribute excellent pieces on the work life of academics and on the democracy's college tradition, respectively; assistant director Jamie Haft, who offers valuable insight into the public education and miseducation of young artists; and Boyte himself, whose historical and theoretical formulations frame the book and its arguments, and who often works closely with Imagining America and its leaders. In addition, several authors discuss Imagining America directly: two examples are Rutgers University-Newark chancellor Nancy Cantor, who describes IA's work in promoting public humanism and countering the notion that academics are "talkers not listeners" (77); and University of Pennsylvania doctoral student Cecilia M. Orphan, who describes IA's role in developing new models of graduate student socialization that would encourage rather than discourage public work. ...