September 3, 2015

Launching A National Arts-Based Initiative on Community and Economic Development

Performing Our FutureDuke_split

Across the U.S., there’s a growing recognition that art and culture can drive community and economic development. But it’s rare when those artistic efforts include rural communities and their colleges, or focus on bringing together all parts of a community, including its poor and working class residents, for development that is equitable.

A new initiative, Performing Our Future, is creating a model for how to do just that.

Over a two-year period and with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, ArtPlace America, and the National Endowment for the Arts, three communities in different geographic locations will demonstrate how artistic expression leads to community-wide empowerment and how the assets of local culture can develop economic sustainability.

A union of economists, artists, and scholars is behind the initiative’s methodology: the rural arts and humanities institution Appalshop and its Roadside Theater; the economists and students at Lafayette College’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project in Easton, Pa.; and the national consortium of 100 colleges advancing public scholarship, Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life. Key elements in the methodology include creating public performances based on local stories and mapping community assets to identify opportunities for value and wealth creation through market exchange.

“Appalshop and Roadside Theater have long been national leaders in making art for communities, with communities, and by communities with transformative results,” says Ben Cameron, Director of Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which this week announced a $225,000 grant to support Performing Our Future. “We are thrilled to support this project, which promises to increase both appreciation for their work and the impact of their work even further.”

EEGLPAppalshopTo enrich learning, ensure national impact, and develop and disseminate findings, the three local projects will interface with each other and with the national research team of economists, artists, scholars, and students. The local college partners in each community will be drawn from Imagining America’s network of more than 100 higher education institutions elevating higher education’s public purposes.

One of the project sites is Appalshop’s home of Letcher County, Ky., a county in the nation’s poorest and sickest congressional district, which has developed and enacted Performing Our Future’s methodology for two years. Through Appalshop’s award-winning films, radio, music, and theater productions, community residents are exploring new strategies for entrepreneurship to replace the decline of the coal mining industry. In collaboration with Lafayette College’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project and Imagining America, Appalshop is leading a process for its community to translate the region’s cultural assets into new and expanded businesses, leadership development programs, and tourism.

ArtPlace America recently recognized Appalshop’s critical role in community planning and development with a $450,000 investment in Letcher County, Ky. “ArtPlace was thrilled to be able to invest in Appalshop and its partners as they investigate the role that performing arts and folk arts can play in re-imagining and growing Letcher County’s economy,” says ArtPlace America Executive Director Jamie Bennett. “We look forward to working with them as they share what will be a national model for communities both rural and urban across our country.”

Core research questions for Performing Our Future include the ways in which culture and artistic expression shape individual and community identity, expand imagination, and influence microeconomic incentives and behavior. The research will draw on the learning of Lafayette College’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project, which, in addition to Appalachia, has undertaken successful projects in Easton, Pa.; rural Honduras; the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, La.; and Jamaica, winning recognition as a model of public scholarship – a rigorous research process that is driven by community expertise, and which fosters a rich environment for discovering new knowledge and student learning.

“We are excited to be a part of this important project, particularly since it exemplifies one of our major goals: providing students with opportunities to use their education to benefit communities in need,” says Lafayette College President Alison Byerly. “It’s also a powerful example of how art can change lives in concrete ways, a strong argument for the power of a liberal arts education.”

Lafayette College’s participation is supported, in part, by a generous gift from trustee George Jenkins, Class of ’74.

Dudley Cocke, artistic director of Roadside Theater, and Jamie Haft, assistant director of Imagining America, will co-direct Performing Our Future. Gladstone “Fluney” Hutchinson, associate professor of economics and director of Lafayette College’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project, and Scott Peters, professor in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University and faculty co-director of Imagining America, are co-principal investigators of Performing Our Future’s research.

To get involved, please contact Jamie Haft at 315-345-3931 (cell) and
For media inquiries, please contact Kristine Y. Todaro, Lafayette College director of special projects & media relations, at 610-330-5119 (office), 484-554-4984 (cell), and

May 18, 2015

To be anti-racist and White. Or, A snapshot of an anxious mind

Elyse GordonBy Elyse Gordon, PAGE Co-director

Good grief. I am overwhelmed by what is going on and my responsibility to act.

But I am so stretched right now: deep in my research, so near the end; in the struggle of personal wellness and some long overdue healing.

Forget that! I don’t get to lean on my Whiteness as an excuse to opt out. The mere fact that I get to opt out means I can’t opt out.

But self care is radical. It is the most important thing. Can’t care for others unless I care for myself.

And, you know, this isn’t a war. It’s a journey, a change of consciousness, a new paradigm is rising. It’s ok to sit out this chapter if I need to. And I think I need to.

But I have rarely been one to just sit things out. I may not participate, but I usually direct my energy around somehow else. How will I direct my energy this time? And I still feel responsible to do something.

Oh yeah! The salon series – that’s putting my energy to work in a really concrete way in a small little microcosm of action. Who knows what the ripples will be from engaging other White folks in these conversations.

And I live my value of justice all the time, or at least I try to. My lens for the world is one of racial justice now. Once you have that analysis, it isn’t going anywhere. So everyone I talk to, everything I study, it will have that perspective.

Ok, ok, ok. But is that enough? What’s enough?! People are being killed. Folks don’t feel safe in their cities, in their neighborhoods. Other folks are so frightened to give up power that they sling racist and hurtful words and deny White Supremacy as if it wasn’t the very thread of our nation’s institutions. And folks are finding themselves in stark, material poverty after months of being on the streets of Ferguson. And still justice hasn’t been reached.

And why isn’t anyone really talking about poverty, anyway? I mean, that’s not entirely true. In Baltimore, it is clearly being framed as structural violence, systemic oppression, dispossession. People understand that what we’re seeing isn’t an individual thing, and it isn’t just about the Police. These are deeply intertwined with the history and geography of that city and its people. But I’m talking more about the actual experiences of poverty; how movement work reproduces poverty; who gets the money when we direct money to black-led organizers; how we convince people to give their money to Black liberation instead of the Boys and Girls Club… How we direct money so that the people fighting this fight on the front lines aren’t having to choose between food, shelter and cell phone bills.

And then this crisis in Nepal! And my neighbors and their daughter who died in an avalanche, and the heartbreak of bearing witness to their process. And just feeling like there can’t possibly be more pain in the world! How can I make space for all of this? And where can the joy be brought back in?

But then there’s food, and cooking, and art, and friends, and colleagues, and hummingbirds, and sunshine, and yoga, and breath.

Breath. I sometimes wonder if I just let all of this go if things wouldn’t be simpler. If I really embraced Buddhist principles, then would I be so distraught? But is that just supremely selfish?

Who cares?!

And what am I making for dinner??

Being in my own head about all of this is a privilege of its own; its a sign of my whiteness, my tendency to analyze, to over think, to dwell, to worry, to ruminate.

Enough, already!

My exercise in collective liberation today is this: When People of Color have power, I will benefit by not being plagued by anxiety and concern about how to be in the world as a White person.

May 15, 2015

Announcing the New Issue of Public: A Journal of Imagining America: “Organizing. Culture. Change.”

Public coverWe are pleased to announce that “Organizing. Culture. Change.” is now live. The first section grows out of the 2014 IA Conference on the same theme: the keynote, “Words Changing the World: The Power of Personal, Communal, and Allegorical Stories in Bringing Dreams to Reality,” by Doug Shipman; a response to Shipman’s presentation by a cadre of IA PAGE (Publicly Active Graduate Education) Fellows; Erica Kohl-Arenas’ conversation with long-time IA friend and civic engagement leader Harry Boyte and executive director of Alternate ROOTS Carlton Turner; and an inside look at how the 2014 conference was organized by IA associate director Kevin Bott, community organizer Maria Avila, and Emory University faculty member and administrator Vialla Hartfield-Mendez.

We then feature a piece by Marion Wilson on the integration of art as social practice with her teaching, followed by a conversation with McArthur winning artist Rick Lowe.

A broad range of case studies provide examples of integrating culture and organizing: “Public Life through a Prison/University Partnership,” by David Coogan; “ART CART: Saving the Legacy” by Joan Jeffri; “Lost Stories and Cultural Patrimony” by Pat Steenland; “Citizen Stories: A New Path to Cultural Change “ by Alexander Olson, Elizabeth Gish, and Terry Shoemaker; and “Reimagine A Lot” by Claudia Paraschiv. The issue ends with Ben Fink’s review of Harry Boyte’s Democracy’s Education.

Access the journal at Enjoy!

May 15, 2015

We Stand With Baltimore

We, at Imagining America, stand with those in Baltimore calling for restorative action and equity. A current Imagining America Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow and resident of Baltimore, Enger Muteteke, writes “Baltimore is about all of us.”

The death of Freddie Gray is dually emblematic of larger systemic problems, and also represents the precious value of individual lives. We see the ways violence and brutality, which have affected brown and black bodies from Ferguson to Sanford to Baltimore, challenge those of us in higher education who would like to do better in terms of our contributions to societal issues, to take up the deep work of building relationships and power to address and sustain change.

We look to reflections on #BaltimoreUprising by our partners; they are educators, students, artists, designers, and humanists concerned with esteeming and promulgating values of justice, empathy, and community.

  • UMBC students, faculty, staff and alumni share perspectives on #BaltimoreUprising as part of the UMBC Breaking Ground blog. “This is about all of us; about our country, not just about Baltimore. What we see in our city is what we see in our country. When we think about inequality, when we think about questions of justice, these are issues that we face in our nation. And the role of the university is to teach people to think critically about the challenges that human beings face.” -Freeman Hrabowski, President, UMBC
  • AlternateROOTS Executive Director Carlton Turner writes “In Solidarity with Baltimore” and ROOTS member, visual artist, and Baltimore resident Ashley Minner shares LOVEbaltiMORE. “Alternate ROOTS stands in solidarity with the organizers, artists, and everyday people that are walking tall in their dignity and determining their own self worth. We value your lives and will work alongside you to support the work that needs to be done to build stronger together.” -Carlton Turner
  • #PAGE2Ferguson, a blog salon by Imagining America’s PAGE Fellows, features articles, poetry, and prose as a means of conjoining multiple perspectives and processing the #blacklivesmatter movement, together. “Baltimore City is about all of us – every ounce of power and privilege we have misused, every time we witnessed daily microagressions done to ourselves or another and said nothing, every time we are tempted to take up space in this Earth without speaking hope and peace into the life of another.” – Enger Muteteke, PAGE 2014-2015 Fellow

We invite you share your reflections by considering the following questions sending responses to Imagining America at

  • What is the role of of higher education in the #blacklivesmatter movement?
  • How are you as an artist or scholar responding to #blacklivesmatter?
  • How can higher education continue to foster dialogue around these issues?

Imagining America is collaborating with UMBC and MICA: Maryland Institute College of Art to hold our annual national conference in Baltimore, October 1-3, 2015 around the theme, America Will Be! The Art and Power of “Weaving Our We.” In advance of the conference, we are hosting our 3rd annual IA organizing institute, June 12-14, 2015, where we will create a space to share stories and have important conversations around ways to organize around justice and utilize the arts, humanities, and design to provide civic agency. Click here to learn more.

January 29, 2015

Imagining America Remembers Dr. Randy Martin


Randy Martin, a long-time advocate and ally of Imagining America, passed away on January 28, 2015 after a two-year battle with cancer. 

Randy’s impact on IA and everyone involved with IA is difficult to capture in words. His intellect kept us alert, his generosity gave us hope, his clowning made us human.

The loss of Randy is hard for us to comprehend and the mourning will continue. We will find ways to commemorate and remain true to his legacy. 

Today, we simply stand in solidarity and compassion with those Randy touched and influenced through his life and work. 

Below, we have compiled several powerful examples of Randy’s work:

2012 IA Conference Opening Plenary Session – featuring Dr. Marta Moreno Vega,  Sonja Manjon, Randy Martin, and Jack Tchen.

LATERAL MOVES – ACROSS DISCIPLINES – is an edited conversation with Randy Martin and three members of the Cultural Studies Praxis Collective: Miriam Bartha, Diane Douglas, and Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren. The original conversation took place at the University of Washington’s Simpson Center for the Humanities in 2007. The transcript of the conversation was reworked and revised by the interlocutors and Bruce Burgett, the current chair of the IA National Advisory Board.Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 4.10.56 PM

Linked Fates and Futures: Communities and Campuses as Equitable Partners? – is a piece written by Randy Martin for the first issue of Public: A Journal of Imagining America, following the 2012 IA Conference in New York City. It 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.Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 4.12.05 PM