December 15, 2014

Something to Behold in West Baltimore

By Jamie Haft, Assistant Director of Imagining America

This is a story about how residents, artists, community organizers, university professors, and students responded to a massive urban renewal disaster in West Baltimore that displaced 19,000 African Americans for an expressway that was never completed. This story shows what a large-scale action for art and social justice can look like. How does a national organization come in for an event and significantly boost the capacity of the ongoing local struggle for justice?

In June 2011, three years of grassroots art-making and organizing was marked by a massive festival next to that 1.4-mile dead-end expressway dubbed by community members The Highway to Nowhere. Eleven thousand West Baltimoreans came together to celebrate their struggle and resilience with a star-studded line-up of musicians, singers, spoken-word artists, and dancers. ROOTSFest 2011 was co-produced by West Baltimore’s CultureWorks and the southern regional arts and activism nonprofit Alternate ROOTS. There were tents and stands for social justice and neighborhood organizations, food vendors, community drummers, and conversations with national activists including the Free Southern Theater’s John O’Neal and El Teatro Campesino’s Luis Valdez. The festival marked the 35th anniversary of ROOTS.

Recently, in October, those involved in the festival came together for a reunion at the historic Arch Social Club. The six-hour event had three acts: 1) a reading of a play; 2) story circles with community members and ROOTS leaders in response to the play; and 3) collective reflection and discussion of next actions. Tasty food, libations, and dance music crowned the event.

The Progression

After the 2011 festival, Ashley Milburn, Denise Johnson, Randolph Rowel, Bob Leonard, Dudley Cocke, and Jon Catherwood-Ginn began a critical dialogue about the festival’s successes and shortcomings. They emailed each other and audio recorded and transcribed their conversations, and presented their reflections at the 2012 Imagining America national conference in Minneapolis. Their reflections and critique became the basis for an 18,000-word essay that was authored collectively and edited by Catherwood-Ginn.

Moved by the essay’s testimonies, I proposed turning it into a play. West Baltimore leaders liked the idea, and ROOTS agreed to sponsor the event. To create the script, Dudley Cocke and I began by reading the essay aloud and considering: Who are the main characters in this multiyear organizing effort? What are the most dramatic moments? What turns of phrase and images resonate? We virtually convened project leaders for draft script readings and input, and the parts were cast with volunteers from the West Baltimore community.

The Performance and Dialogue

Drawn from the first-voice descriptions of the organizing and eventual festival, the characters in the play are: Artist, Organizer, Professor, Producer, and Community Woman and Community Man, who take on multiple roles from residents to government officials. Here’s the play script.

Sixty people came to witness community members performing their community story, to share their own experiences in the ensuing story circles, and, as a group, to consider new collective actions to advance justice in West Baltimore.

The Portability

The West Baltimore and ROOTS communities are sharing the play, multimedia, and essay ( to spark further reflection, organizing, and action. ROOTS is considering reprising the performance and dialogue as part of ROOTS Week, August 4-9, 2015, as a way for its membership to plan its 40th anniversary in 2016.  Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life is also considering using the play as part of its next national conference, October 1-4, 2015, at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Educators are invited to use the play for teaching and learning about the practice of community cultural development. We’ve started a list of issues and questions for reflection. Other folks for their own purposes can adapt the three-act event model – a play created from reflections of stakeholders followed by story circles and then group analysis.

Let us know your thoughts here in the comments.

December 15, 2014

2014 Imagining America Presidents’ Forum Report

In a time when higher education is facing significant challenges, how can colleges and universities address the critical social and economic challenges of our time? What responsibility do higher education leaders have to perpetuate the great public, civic, and democratic legacy of American higher education?Presidents, provosts, and other national leaders are betting that part of the answer to these questions is embedded in publicly engaged scholarship and in the humanities, arts, and design. The Imagining America (IA) Presidents’ Council and Presidents’ Forum are designed as means for generating strategy and leadership on such questions that will bring Imagining America to a new stage of effectiveness and impact.

Planning the October 9, 2014 Forum in Atlanta: “What’s holding presidents, provosts, and other national leaders back from being bolder, and how can IA provide more support and leverage?” This question guided the design of the agenda for the 2014 Forum, co-chaired by Brian Murphy. Council Co-Chair Nancy Cantor challenged the Planning Team to think about how presidents can simultaneously make the case for social justice and for business. A case study of interdisciplinary publicly engaged scholarship that demonstrates how a college is contributing to the reduction of poverty in rural America was chosen because of its focus on finding a new economy for arts and humanities, and on advancing a paradigm for development driven by culture.

Brian Murphy, co-chair of the IA Presidents' Council and president of De Anza College, speaks to the Presidents' Forum at the 2014 IA National Conference in Atlanta Georgia.

Brian Murphy, co-chair of the IA Presidents’ Council and president of De Anza College, speaks to the Presidents’ Forum at the 2014 IA National Conference in Atlanta Georgia.

Forum Presentation: Gladstone “Fluney” Hutchinson of the Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project (EEGLP) at Lafayette College and Dudley Cocke of Appalshop, the arts and humanities institution in the central Appalachian coalfields, presented. By joining the expertise and knowledge of economists with that of artists, their project is developing an investment plan to simultaneously support the economic development of Appalshop and the Appalachian region. Faculty, students, and artists have been identifying and testing entrepreneurial strategies for wealth creation that tap the area’s singularly rich cultural traditions. For example, a for-profit business for software development is being incubated, and its strategic advantage is proving to be its orientation to the cultural strengths of its location.

The collaborators’ approach resonates with the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015, which points to the emergent intellectual coalescence around the principle of inclusive growth as a critical pillar for achieving sustainable economic development and social justice. By treating poverty as a problem that can only be solved by government and outside experts, Hutchinson and Cocke argue that the previous wars on poverty have not sufficiently supported the development of individual agency and a latent collective spirit of entrepreneurship. The Appalshop—EEGLP partnership represents an asset-based alternative that leverages the special ways in which cultural organizations create civic space and how culture, and its offspring art, shape individual and collective identity, bound or expand imagination, and ultimately contribute toward determining economic behavior.

Dudley Cocke, artistic director of Roadside Theater at Appalshop, presents on the Appalshop-EELGP collaboration to the Presidents' Forum at the 2014 IA National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dudley Cocke, artistic director of Roadside Theater at Appalshop, presents on the Appalshop-EELGP collaboration to the Presidents’ Forum at the 2014 IA National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Forum Discussion: Responding to the presenters’ focus on the relationship between culture and economy, Forum participants challenged the idea that there is a tradeoff between “preparing for jobs” and “contributing to a sustainable democratic society.” The forthcoming volume edited by Harry Boyte, Democracy’s Education: Public Work, Citizenship, and the Future of Colleges and Universities, includes strong case studies of higher education addressing immediate political imperatives while being resources for “the changing world of work.”

Responding to EEGLP’s use of asset mapping, David Scobey asked, “What if IA were to map the assets of our collective efforts to institutionalize publicly engaged scholarship in higher education? For example, one asset is the infrastructure that has been created by new centers, programs, and institutes that have been founded in the last 15 years, which cut across the immobilizing silos and bureaucracies.” George Sanchez added, “How might IA better understand the motivations of different populations who have a high sense of civic engagement, such as undocumented students, and involve them in our mission?”

Participants discussed possibilities for organizing culture change in research universities, including the ways the civic identities of faculty are developed. Opportunities noted included Civic Science as an avenue for scientists to work in deeper and more satisfying cultural contexts beyond delivering technocratic solutions. Building on this point, Boyte suggested IA look for ways to support college presidents as public philosophers who think deeply about the purpose of higher education and the meaning of democracy. Chancellor Bjong Wolf Yeigh recommended that IA design a research protocol to help stakeholders better understand the leadership qualities and characteristics of sitting college presidents, and how those qualities and characteristics are shaping their institutions.

The Appalshop—EEGLP presentation argued that the transformation of higher education and its arts, design, and humanities disciplines can be greatly enhanced by institution-to-institution partnerships between community-based organizations and colleges and universities. To what degree do IA and its membership believe in the power of partnering with cultural organizations as a core strategy? What would it take to increase the breadth and depth of such partnerships? 

Actions for Further Consideration:

  1. Produce a research report about the assets created to date by efforts in the last 10-20 years to institutionalize publicly engaged scholarship in higher education. Through a yearly update that would consider the gains and losses for institutionalizing civic engagement within the IA membership of 100 colleges and universities, the finding could become the basis for an annual State of the Field report.
  2. Develop an institution-to-institution partnership between IA and Appalshop to test the supposition that such higher education and community-based collaborations are poised to create new knowledge that is compelling in its democratic, populist orientation and consequently effective in solving persistent community problems both on and off campus.
  3. Convene presidents in a retreat setting to consider questions relevant to IA’s transition to a new institutional home in 2017: What are the most important achievements and values for IA to hold onto and cultivate as it seeks a new institutional home? Given the current circumstances in higher education and public life, what are the pressing roles and tasks for which IA is needed? Do these questions and their answers affect how you would advise IA to think about its move and the new institutional home or arrangement it might seek?

Get involved: IA and its Presidents’ Council depend on the vision and efforts of national leaders. Please contact IA Co-Director Tim Eatman at, and the report author, IA Assistant Director Jamie, with your thoughts and commitments for 2015.

October 21, 2014

Weaving Our WE: A Poem by Carol Bebelle

Weaving Our WELEW-0041

Since, that parting at the start,
from our safest home and anchor
WE yearn for belonging.

Soon, human touch defines our new sense of intimacy becoming a good exchange for our first sanctuary.
Familiar, though not the same,
It soothes and inspires us
to begin our necessary launch to living.

Holding fast at first, then tentative, to our new shores of connection, WE begin our dance of cleaving to, yet holding from, those like us
Who are also seeking their own delicate balance to life.

With every fiber of our spirit, WE struggle to become able to be alone , yet part of those who help us know our emerging selves.
They mostly look like us, sound like us and ………. WE become like them.

WE are so satisfied with this way of being, till the day that new presence shows up and WE start to feel the pull to be with this new discovered pleasure
Though different, WE bask in it.

WE flirt with it. It makes us laugh, feel good, reluctant to leave.

Call it neighbor, friend, teacher, or just community, Now,a needed part of our happy.
So, our life long collecting of others begins
More and more to choose from, to add to our anchoring, our tending of self and our expanded self, called WE.

Yes, WE sense the difference from those first ones, the ones WE once needed so much, called family.

Once taken for granted, now, WE fear the risk of losing either one or the other

So…. WE learn this ritual, this flirtatious dance of catching spirits, collecting people
Adding them over and over to our WE.
And WE grow better and better at this graceful effort,
The new ones pull us, push, shape us, helping define us.
This scares us but also propels us, helping to anchor us, find our center, test our bonds of connection..…belonging.

WE lose some along the way, yet WE continue the dance, ever searching and collecting the ones for our WE.

Some stay, some leave, some melt into us.
Absent minded, automatic, like breathing sometimes.

But, also Intentional, like a patient weaver, WE hold the common thread while adding color, pattern, to loop together in the making of our unique design for life.

Oh but WE are not always careful to make sure that the design and structure can tolerate contrast, resistance, unexpected and compelling sweet distractions.

For these…..these, in the end, make our life more fulfilling, satisfying and ………….. worth the living!

Akua (aka Carol Bebelle)


Performed at the 2014 Imagining America National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.


Artist Statement

LEW-8111All Us, a New Orleans way of saying We reminds me that there are so many ways in which we all perform being human. Our style, our frequency, our velocity may differ but we all journey life’s adventure negotiating the tension of alone and together from and with others.

Our independence sturdies us while our interdependence nurtures us.  And we dance between needing others and needing to be alone. The dance is sometimes so subtle it escapes even us. But we are always looking for the added flavor and stimulation that some other being provides to our sense of self and well- being.

For it is in the “we” that we find our most definitive self, refracted exponentially through the eyes and hearts of our others.

September 24, 2014

IA Launches the Commission on Publicly Engaged Design

susan.kravitz.2Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life announces a new initiative, the Commission on Publicly Engaged Design (CoPED). The commission is co-chaired by James Fathers, Professor and Iris Magidson Endowed Chair of Design at Syracuse University, and Marc Norman, the 2014–15 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. The purpose of CoPED is to ascertain the leading edges of publicly engaged design, and develop an agenda regarding what IA can do to leverage our 100 plus institution member consortium to maximize breakthroughs and innovations, but to also meet continuing challenges and barriers.

Scholars and artists within IA have long been engaged in exploring the power of publicly engaged design for knowledge creation and institutional transformation. IA Faculty co-directors Tim Eatman and Scott Peters believe that it is now time for IA to consider the state of the field in more strategic ways. Working across disciplines and campuses, the commission will identify, engage, and convene design leaders in an ongoing exploration of the ways in which IA can facilitate and support publicly engaged design.

The planning team will officially launch the CoPED at the 2014 Imagining America national conference in Atlanta, Georgia on October 11. In a roundtable session, design leaders throughout our network will review the state of public interest in design and consider ways IA can advance such work at member campuses across the country.

In Spring 2015, the planning team will host a CoPED Summit at Cornell University. Ultimately, this initiative hopes to gather together the potent synergy around publicly engaged design in a research agenda, which collects and analyzes best practices, past and present, as a means of developing innovative strategies for engagement.

IA Conference Session: Commission on Publicly Engaged Design

Saturday, October 11—Afternoon Session (1:30–3:00 p.m.)

Oceanic Ballroom C, 4th Floor

In this session, design leaders throughout our network will launch Imagining America’s new Commission on Publicly Engaged Design (CoPED), co-chaired by James Fathers and Marc Norman. Led by the CoPED planning team, the session will be comprised of national leaders in the range of design fields including engineering, architecture, and interactive design. Together, participants will review the state of public interest in design, consider ways IA can advance such work at member campuses across the country, and create a charge for the commission moving forward.

Participants should come prepared to share several exemplary case studies of publicly engaged design work in the current field, not just as a report, but to draw from them key learning moments from which an agenda for the commission can be imagined.


  • James Fathers, Professor and Chair of the Department of Design, Syracuse University
  • Marc Norman, 2014–15 Loeb Fellow Graduate School of Design, Harvard University
  • Tom Fisher, Professor and Dean of the College of Design, School of Architecture, University of Minnesota
  • Marybeth Lima, Cliff & Nancy Spanier Alumni Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, Louisiana State University
December 17, 2014

Cultivating Community Vitality: Reflections from Northern California

By Holly George, County Department Head & Livestock/Natural Resources Advisor, University of California Cooperative Extension Plumas-Sierra Counties

The Extension Reconsidered blog features posts from guest contributors who care about Cooperative Extension, the land-grant mission, community arts and humanities, civic engagement, and other issues related to the Extension Reconsidered initiative.

After 30+ years on the job, I feel Cooperative Extension can make the most impact by embracing the community development component of our jobs and stepping out of the safe box of academia. Many people associated with land grant systems are comfortable with biological and environmental sciences but shy away from social science.

Holly George at a ranch in northeastern California. Image provided by the author.

Holly George at a ranch in northeastern California. Image provided by the author.

I was no different when I started with University of California Cooperative Extension as the first female Livestock, Natural Resources Farm Advisor in 1983 in two Bay Area counties. I liked working with livestock, and being outdoors and providing informal education appealed to me. I almost didn’t apply for that first job as “land use” was part of the job title. I was an animal science major with an agriculture teaching degree who knew a bit about range and pasture management, but land use policy sounded messy and unrelated to my studies.

I quickly learned that some of those “messy” topics (land use, water quantity and quality, public lands management, economic viability, etc.) are the weak links in the livelihood of my primary clientele.

The challenges that these topics represent are excellent opportunities for Cooperative Extension to practice civic engagement. We can bring people together to learn about and make decisions together about our communities, and help facilitate greater understanding among diverse audiences. I believe that this kind of work will contribute to better policies for our primary clientele & the resources they steward.

After working in two urban counties, I’ve spent most of my career in two rural northeastern California counties. We face many of the same natural resources and “commons” issues as others across the West. This region is predominately public lands with US Forest Service being the largest land manager in the area. There used to be lots of lumber mills; but now there is only one. Agriculture (pasture and range for cattle and hay production) covers most of the private land. We are at the headwaters of and provide over 25% of the water for the State Water Project. We have the largest alpine valley in the lower 48 states with amazing wildlife habitat. It is a beautiful part of the state, but a tough place to make a living.

It is also a geographically isolated place, and that makes it hard to have your voice heard. Over the course of my career, I have explored different ways to bring people together and help them share their stories across the challenges of distance and ideology.

Extension as a People Connector

The reality of my job is that while I am a Livestock-Natural Resources Advisor, I’m not the one managing the herds or owning the conserved lands myself. I work with the people who manage the livestock and natural resources. Thus I need diverse people and social science skills to be an effective “change agent”.

A few years ago, I collaborated with jesikah maria ross, a multi-media artist from Davis, California, who at the time was director of UC Davis Art of Regional Change. Jesikah was developing “Passion for the Land a multimedia project to help rural residents share their stories about preserving community heritage while protecting agricultural lands and natural resources for future generations.


Her work is an example of how a place-based Cooperative Extension advisor (me) tapped into artistic and technology resources to amplify the voices of 12 rural residents ranging in age from 24 to 84. A rancher challenged me to create one, so I did: Keeping People on the Land.

These personal digital stories, many with a ”call to action” targeted at decision makers and the voting public, have been shared with diverse audiences. For example:

  1. The Plumas County Planning Commission viewed Passion for the Land during one of their meetings and subsequently added optional Agriculture & Water Elements to the County General Plan Update.
  2. At the California Preservation Conference, we used Passion for the Land stories to remind people that preservation efforts might want to be expanded to include policies that support people involved in working landscapes (versus the traditional mode of preservation, which is saving a piece of ground from development or restoring an historic building).
  3. We shared on the Big Screen at the local movie theater including public Q&A with stories tellers as well as at the County Fair, conferences, schools, service group meetings.

Since then, Extension colleagues asked for help to do something similar in their areas. In response, jesikah and I created the Toolkit for Change, part facilitation guide and part training guide, which uses personal stories to help sustain working landscapes and rural communities. Extension Rangeland Watershed Specialist Ken Tate supported our effort by writing the preface. I subsequently taught digital storytelling to senior agriculture communication students at Chico State University and have helped other agriculture/natural resource professionals. Extension can help rural residents share their stories.


Connecting Art, Culture, and Agriculture

John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread.” I see lots of natural connections between culture and agriculture. Planting a seed, cultivating, reaping what you sow—both farmer and artist share these activities. Both are independent, hard-working, passionate, and creative people. Have you ever seen what a rancher can do with baling wire and duct tape?

Last year, I added a new word to my vocabulary and hopefully it will soon be in yours. ”Cultureshed” is a term coined in 1988 by Jay Salinas, co-founder of Wisconsin’s Wormfarm Institute. It extrapolates from watershed (a region linked by its surface waters) and from foodshed (a more recent term describing an area that seeks to become nutritionally self-sufficient). I like it.

Cultureshed (n.): 1. A geographic region irrigated by streams of local talent and fed by deep pools of human and natural history. 2. An area nourished by what is cultivated locally. 3. The efforts of writers, performers, visual artists, scholars, farmers, and chefs who contribute to a vital and diverse local culture.

Food Education Agriculture Solutions Together (FEAST) participants enjoy a locally sourced meal at an October 2014 event hosted by Plumas-Sierra Community Food Council. Image provided by the author.

Food Education Agriculture Solutions Together (FEAST) participants enjoy a locally sourced meal at an October 2014 event hosted by Plumas-Sierra Community Food Council. Image provided by the author.

Similar to the French term terrior, it conveys the belief that an authentic, compelling culture arises from the particular microclimate, geography and population of a place. Cultureshed lifts up the idea that by nurturing a healthy culture, we build more vibrant, resilient and thriving places.

In my day-to-day work, I’ve seen how art and culture can nourish the economic (and in our case agricultural) life of a place, and vice versa. For years I’ve worked in “Agriculture & Nature Tourism”, and I am currently chair of California Extension’s Agritourism workgroup. Years ago, I attended the Carson Valley Eagles and Agriculture event. The connection between arts, natural resources and agriculture inspired me to work with local ranchers, the Audubon Society, and other organizations to create a daylong event in our own community called Barns, Birds and Barbeque. The objective was to showcase ranch stewardship, build relationships between ranchers and Audubon, plus put a face to the people in agriculture.


The success of these fun and informational events has grown into a series of local informal dinners in the barn and the Feather River Land Trust hosting a “Birds, Boats and BBQ” event on properties they own. Today, we even have a Tour De Manure bike race that benefits the local fire department.

Joining the “Creative Place Making” Movement

At Cooperative Extension, sound science is our core. I value accurate content; but I also care about process and presentation. I like to collaborate with colleagues who challenge the status quo way of doing things and inspire me to explore different ways of engaging clientele, policy makers, and the public. I see art and culture as a proven way to build relationships that lead to positive changes for the people and resources in the communities where I work and beyond.

It doesn’t matter that until recently I didn’t feel comfortable calling myself an artist. I can’t draw like Gail or sing like Sarah, but, like many of you, I’m a creative person in my own way. I love fiber arts and woodworking, and these are my own personal links to understanding the creativity, fresh ideas, and open-mindedness that arts and culture can offer each of us.


Part of my 2013 sabbatical leave was exploring vibrant rural communities. I wanted to improve my ability at connecting people and building bridges (relationships) among agriCULTURE, arts, local food and recreation so residents understand, appreciate and support the diverse contributions of each to the other.

“Creative place making” is a relatively new term used to describe arts and the role artists play in helping to shape a community’s social, economic and physical future. The activities and strategies are arts-based while the outcomes are intended to be placed-based.

This September, I attended the Cross-Currents: Art+Agriculture Powering Rural Economies Conference in Greensboro, NC. A few Extension colleagues attended this “creative place making” event. I’d encourage more Extension folks to participate in conferences like this. Push your comfort zone, explore opportunities to incorporate more creativity and engage diverse audiences to help you be better change agents.

Yes, California is in a drought and I’m working on environmental regulations. But a recent, less contentious effort I’ve undertaken is the called the Lost Sierra Community Collaboration bringing diverse members in my rural counties together to focus on positive possibilities aimed at accomplishing something together that is more than any of us can do working alone. Multi-generational ranchers, local businesses, beginning market gardeners, Arts Commission, Land Trust and Tourism folks are Building Bridges Among Ag, Art, Local Food and Recreation aimed at Improved Vitality for Residents and Visitors in Plumas and Sierra Counties. I am happy with the progress we’re making and excited the Arts Commission decided to have their 2016 calendar be the Faces and Places of Local Agriculture.

We are building community.

As trusted network weavers, Cooperative Extension can help individuals and groups in growing a sense of unity and pride for this place we all call home. We want local residents to thrive, and we want to encourage innovation in our rural economies. Then, together we can expand authentic tourism experiences for visitors to our unique part of the world…sharing glimpses of who we are, where we live and why we care.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2015 from Holly George in northeastern California. Image provided by the author.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2015 from Holly George in northeastern California. Image provided by the author.

Opinions presented on the Extension Reconsidered blog belong to the authors. Contact Jen Jensen (jkj37[at] to contribute, or comment here to share your thoughts. Follow @extrecon on Twitter for blog updates or read more about the Extension Reconsidered initiative at our website.