September 29, 2015

Imagining America to Receive Phi Beta Kappa Key of Excellence

Prize Recognizes Exemplary Efforts to Engage Communities with Arts and Sciences

585_PBK-insigniaBaltimore, Md. September 29, 2015 – The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest and most-widely known academic honor society, will present Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life with the capstone Key of Excellence Award and its $10,000 prize at a reception on Thursday, October 1 during the 15th annual national Imagining America conference.

Phi Beta Kappa will present the award at the Baltimore Museum of Art during a ceremony with featured remarks from Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Imagining America’s Faculty Co-Directors Drs. Timothy Eatman and Scott Peters will accept the award in support of its work.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society created the Key of Excellence Awards to energize support for the arts and sciences because of their value to the nation. “The Key of Excellence showcases innovative programs that demonstrate the excellence, range, and relevance of the arts and sciences to their communities,” said Phi Beta Kappa President Katherine Soule. “We aim to show decision makers that the arts and sciences develop both inventive employees and thoughtful citizens. They are vital to a vibrant culture and democracy.”

Currently based at Syracuse University, Imagining America is a consortium of over 100 universities and community-based organizations dedicated to animating the civic purposes of the humanities, arts, and design through mutually beneficial community-campus partnerships. The selection committee chose Imagining America for this recognition because of its outstanding efforts to advance the civic purposes of American higher education. Major initiatives —such as Undergraduate Civic Professionalism, Engaged Scholars, Performing Our Future, Civic Science, the Tenure Team Initiative on Public Scholarship, and Public: A Journal of Imagining America —promote positive social change in communities while developing rigorous research that encourages and facilitates the role of civic engagement in liberal arts and sciences education.

“Imagining America brings artists, scholars, designers, community partners, and students together to link stories, fulfill the democratic purposes of higher education, and to address collectively the challenges and opportunities facing the nation,” said Phi Beta Kappa Secretary John Churchill. “We applaud Imagining America for its efforts to ensure that the teaching and research that takes place in classrooms and studios are relevant to, beneficial for, and reflective of its broader communities.”

“We are humbled and inspired by this esteemed award, and grateful for the opportunity it provides to recognize and honor the many bold leaders in our consortium–including our founder, Julie Ellison–who exemplify the power of publicly engaged scholarship in humanities, arts, and design fields.  While this award is a capstone for Phi Beta Kappa’s Key of Excellence event series, we view it as a sign of things yet to come as our still young and growing consortium prepares to open a new chapter in its history,” said Eatman and Peters. Members of IA’s national board led by Bruce Burgett and Lisa Lee will also attend the ceremony.

Every fall, Imagining America’s national conference is a site of collaboration, active dialogue, and problem solving around major issues facing public scholarship and creative practice. This year’s Baltimore-based conference, hosted by UMBC, and co-hosted by MICA, and Morgan State University, centers on the theme “Let America Be! The Art and Power of ‘Weaving Our We,’” and takes place October 1-3.

Previous recipients of the Key of Excellence Award are Arizona State University’s Project Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Wisconsin Science Festival, the Washington Consortium for the Liberal Arts, and the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement.

About The Phi Beta Kappa Society
Founded on December 5, 1776, The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation’s oldest and most-widely known academic honor society. It has chapters at 283 colleges and universities in the United States and more than half a million members around the world. Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression. For more information, visit

About The National Arts & Sciences Initiative
Higher education is at a crossroads, with many of our country’s leaders questioning the need for a broad-based arts and sciences curriculum. Phi Beta Kappa launched a multi-year National Arts & Sciences Initiative to strengthen support for the value of the arts and sciences today. The initiative demonstrates that a broad-based arts and sciences education expands opportunity, drives ingenuity and innovation, and makes a strong investment in America.

About Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life
Launched at a 1999 White House Conference, Imagining America is a thriving consortium of over 100 colleges, universities, and cultural organizations working toward the democratic transformation of higher education and civic life. Imagining America members strengthen the public roles of arts, humanities, and design fields through research and action initiatives, coalition building, and leadership development. Learn more at

About the National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is America’s first museum dedicated to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Avenue S.W. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the National Museum of African Art’s website at


September 23, 2015

Meet the 2015 JGS Photo & Digital Media Fellows

"Untitled Study On History And Aesthetics." Photo by: Elliott Brown Jr., New York University. 2015-16 JGS Fellow.

“Untitled Study On History And Aesthetics.” Photo by: Elliott Brown Jr., New York University. 2015-16 JGS Fellow.

Imagining America announces recipients of the 2015-16 fellowship award for publicly engaged students of photography and media who are using their artistic practice to transform their communities. Thanks to a generous grant from the Joy of Giving Something Foundation (JGS), Imagining America annually selects a cohort of student artists from our member institutions to receive a tuition award of $2,000 and to join a national working group of engaged media makers. These undergraduate and graduate students demonstrated leadership in facilitating community-based photo or media arts experiences with people unlikely to otherwise have access to art-making.

Criteria for the student awardees included financial need, artistic merit, and quality of community-engaged practice.

The awardees will convene at the 2015 national conference, October 1-3, in Baltimore, Maryland.

  • Elliot Brown Jr., New York University
  • Harrison Hill, Western Kentucky University
  • Meadow Jones, University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana
  • Hyunju Kim, The Ohio State University
  • Olivia Pea, Wagner College
  • Jaclin Paul, UMBC: University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Kimberly Powell, Syracuse University
  • Hilary Rosensteel, MICA: Maryland Institute College of Art

Click here to learn more about the 2015 JGS Fellows.

September 18, 2015

The Dialectics of Feminist Counternarratives and Direct Public Engagement: Towards an Everyday Praxis

Kush PatelBy Kush Patel, a Doctoral student in Architecture at the University of Michigan and a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores themes of engaged scholarship, an important topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 1-3, 2015, in Baltimore.

The fight against sexual violence and prejudice is gaining momentum in India. Attacks and threats against women, as well as queer and trans people are being reported at an unprecedented rate. More and more individuals—across class and caste lines—are coming out publicly to counter the ideals of gender and sexuality entrenched in, and sustained by, patriarchy. In this essay, I will discuss one initiative that seeks to combat street harassment and public abuse not through spectacular protests, but through interlinked tactics of everyday performance and sustained public discourse. The example illustrates the kinds of change that are possible when direct participatory engagements are centered on feminist politics. The essay is my response to the question: How can we achieve a productive synthesis between our practices of cultural critique and counternarratives, and other, directly participatory and hopeful ways of engaging?

In 2012, a Bangalore-­based public arts collective Blank Noise[1] launched the “Talk to Me” project to address the relationship of fear that most Indian women experience in their cities. The premise of the project, conceptualized at the Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology, was deceptively simple: to engage total strangers, seen as potentially threatening, in an hour­long conversation over tea and a snack.[2] Within this space, they could talk about anything except sexual violence.[3] The experiment involved five tables—two chairs at each—tea, and samosas. It was conducted over a month on a stretch of road feared for sexual harassment after dark.[4] In the end, participants offered their reflections and discussed changes in perceptions about safety and space, if any.

Since its inception in 2003, Blank Noise had led a number of public projects to combat misogyny and sexist abuse, including the “Safe City Pledge” in which volunteers affirmed attitudinal shifts towards making their cities more safe.[5] With the “Talk to Me” initiative, the instigators sought to go a step further—in the direction of what might be interpreted as the “right to chosen risk,”[6] that is, the right to confront sexual dangers publicly by building connections with individuals across class-­, gender-­, and language­-based distinctions. Over time, “Talk to Me” changed participants’ relationship to the street from avoidance to co­occupancy. More significantly, the project enabled volunteers to challenge biases, and to cultivate empathy by turning their gaze both inward and outward. With each of these, and furthermore, “Talk to Me” advanced—to borrow from philosopher Nancy Fraser’s seminal work—the concept of “subaltern counterpublics.”[7]

Against Jurgen Habermas’ conception of a common public sphere, exclusive of social difference, Fraser frames counterpublics as “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs.”[8] Some examples of such counterpublics might include women, people of color, and gays and lesbians. Fraser stresses that the transformative promise of these counterpublics resides in their “dual character,” functioning as “spaces of withdrawal and regroupment” on the one hand, whilst acting as “training grounds for agitational activities directed towards wider publics” on the other hand.[9] By asserting their right to visibility, the creators of “Talk to Me” opposed the language of danger and safety, traditionally used to limit women’s access to public space. By enacting this oppositional strategy through the medium of talk, they reclaimed their right to political participation. And, by aligning the project with issues of sexual violence in India, as well as the mission of Blank Noise, the participants maintained congruity between enduring structural concerns, critical academic studies, and specific public­-participatory engagements.

To have political impact, counternarratives cannot function at the level of individual critiques alone. They need to be debated and co-­produced along a public spectrum. This implies developing tactics to help challenge experiences of prejudice in spaces, both intimate and public. It also means engaging different groups on a sustained and strategic basis to bring about structural changes in policy with accompanying shifts in public opinion. “Talk to Me” is an example of an everyday praxis that grows with, and through, the dialectics of feminist counternarratives and direct public engagement. The potential for emancipation is built in their overlapping and mutually constitutive roles. Without the publicness of such dialectics, our efforts towards a more just and inclusive world may remain only partially realized.

[1] Blank Noise is a public participatory arts collective located at the intersection of gender and space, and affiliated with the Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology in Bangalore, India. The collective seeks to confront sexual harassment in public spaces through performance, blogging, opinion polls, and street interventions. Among its several projects, “Talk to Me” involved working directly with students. To read more about the group’s mission, see:­and­labs/blank­noise
[2] Blank Noise Blog, July 1, 2013,­to­me.html
[3] Ibid. In the words of Blank Noise director Jasmeen Patheja: “Being defensive … to ‘making safe’ doesn’t ever lead to actually ‘feeling safe’. We tend to make ourselves feel safe by building defense. We need to make ourselves safe by making familiar instead. It requires a purposeful unclenching of the fist.”
[4] Ibid. Also see: Goodyear, Sarah. “Can a Couple of Tables Make Bangalore’s ‘Rapist Lane’ Safe Again?” in CityLab, July 3, 2013,­couple­tables­make- bangalores­rapist­lane­safe­again/6094/
[5] Safe City Pledge, Blank Noise:­bank­from­various­action- heroes.html For my project review and supporting pledge, see: “Making Cities Safe” in Who Speaks and Acts? August 22, 2013:
[6] Shilpa Phadke with Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade, Why Loiter?: Women And Risk On Mumbai Streets (Penguin Books, 2011). The essence of Phadke, Khan, and Ranade’s argument is that patriarchal institutions have long employed the notion of safety to monitor women’s behavior in public spaces. “Safety,” they say, “is connected not as much to women’s own sense of bodily integrity or to their consent, but rather to ideas of izzat (honor) of the family and community” (p.53). In such settings, women are guarded against assumed sexual dangers from less desirable groups, including lower­class men. Due to such a deceptive opposition between class and gender, women are consistently marginalized in larger urban contexts. “Instead of safety,” they add, “what women should seek is the right to take risks …” for it is only by claiming the “right to chosen risk” that they can claim full access to public space (p. 60).
[7] Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy” in Craig J. Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere, Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 109–142.
[8] Ibid., 123.
[9] Ibid., 124.

September 16, 2015

From the Charleston Syllabus to the Charleston Curriculum

A002_C015_0417KKBy Brittany Farr is a Doctoral student in Communication at the University of Southern California and a 2015–2016 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon features a response to the article “Not Just Another Hashtag: Reflections on the #Charlestonsyllabus”, an important topic of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 1-3, 2015, in Baltimore, MD.

The #CharlestonSyllabus is not actually a syllabus. Neither is the #FergusonSyllabus, or the #blackwomansyllabus. They are reading lists. They are bibliographies. And they are incredibly places to start in the quest to better understand the United States’ history of anti­-blackness and white supremacy. But they are not syllabi, and this is an important distinction to make.

As Prof. Keisha Blain describes it, #CharlestonSyllabus seeks to respond to the outpouring of ignorance, racism, and grief in the wake of these events, with knowledge, particularly knowledge of history. It is a way to help us begin to have an informed national conversation about race, one where “those who chose to dominate the discussion have some knowledge of the history” (Blain). To that end, reading any of the texts on these lists help the reader should better understand how we’ve arrived where we are today in terms of racial violence and inequality.

With thousands of readings, the Charleston Syllabus both is and is not a reading list that directly addresses the Charleston shooting. In addition to being a reading list about the Charleston shooting it is also a Black Studies syllabus. It is an African­-American History syllabus. It is an American History syllabus. The readings on the list provide a history of American capitalism, racism, resistance, and inequality.

But the Charleston Syllabus is not the kind of syllabus that educators across the country labor over every year before the school year starts.[1] For those of us who have created syllabi, we know that they can be time intensive labors of love. They have a perspective and a politics. They are created to simultaneously meet students where they’re at, and expand their perspective.

What perspective does the Charleston syllabus have? How or why is the Charleston Syllabus different from the Ferguson Syllabus? How can a syllabus, collectively created, offer the kind of focus and perspective found in the best­-crafted syllabi?

I ask these questions in earnest because I believe that the answers to these questions are the next steps we need to take in order to collectively teach ourselves the history of US racism that many of us live but have not been taught.

We don’t need one definitive syllabus but many syllabi, each with a point of view and each created for people with different educational backgrounds, reading levels, and familiarity with the material. Because while the circumstances that led to the Charleston shooting, the death of Michael Brown, and the nationwide protests against police brutality are all different, each of these events are a response to the United States’ history of anti­-blackness, white supremacy, and institutionalized racism.

The Charleston Syllabus has already demonstrated that people want to come together and have these conversations. Let’s keep that momentum going and provide more tools and more structure for those who want to engage with these readings, who want to broaden their understanding, and want to create community around a commitment to racial justice.

How can we teach each other our denied and suppressed racial history? How can we collectively create syllabi organized around the rhythms and demands of our daily life rather than around the artifice of an academic calendar?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I do have some initial, provisional thoughts of what this might look like:

  • Instead of organizing syllabi by topic we organize them by questions.
    • A syllabus titled “The history of race and punishment in the US” becomes a syllabus titled “How has the history of slavery impacted the development of the US justice system?
  • Syllabi are organized into four-­week units rather than the twelve or fourteen common to an academic calendar. A smaller time commitment is less intimidating and more manageable.
  • The syllabi could include definitions of key terms, reading guidelines and discussion questions.
    • I imagine these will evolve based on people’s engagement with the texts on the syllabi.

We don’t just need syllabi, we need curriculum, and collectively we have all the skills and knowledge we need to create one.


[1] The Charleston Syllabus does include a link to a collection of publicly available, college level syllabi on topics related to race, racism, and social justice.

September 11, 2015

Welcome to the 2015 PAGE Blog Salon

Welcome to the 4th Annual PAGE Blog Salon!

The 2015­-2016 PAGE Fellows are scholars, activists, and artists at universities across the United States. They are dedicated to advancing critical inquiry into social movements, cultural production, and issues of social and political agency using storytelling, public scholarship, and engaged pedagogy. Together their work spans the theories and practices of engaged scholarship, both in and outside of academia.

The Blog Salon will take place over five days, featuring diverse content produced by the Fellows each day. We invite you to engage with these innovative scholars and the entire PAGE community with your comments, questions, and insights. This year’s Salon format is organized with Fellows selecting one of three paths:

  • ­­Responding to an article or syllabus. Specifically, new Fellows use the Salon to join an ongoing conversation with IA’s National Advisory Board.
  • Responding to questions about public engagement’s role in academia, and to local movements and current events. ­­
  • Offering a visual meditation, creative work, art, and/or poetry.

We are truly excited to introduce this year’s Fellows to you. The Fellows and PAGE alums will be continuing these conversations during IA’s national conference in Baltimore in a session entitled: C.O.P.E.— Coming Out Publicly Engaged on October 3 from 10:00AM to 11:30AM. We look forward to discussing strategies for how to thrive at the intersections of academia, creative praxis, and engagement.

The 2015-­2016 National PAGE Co-­Directors
Elyse, Janeke, Jen, Johanna, Alyssa, Naphtali and Stephanie