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
September 22, 2014

Public: A Journal of Imagining America announces new issue, Vol. 2 No. 2

Public: A Journal of Imagining America is pleased to announce that Vol. 2 No. 2, Hybrid, Evolving, and Integrative Career Paths, is now available at public.imaginingamerica.org.

Public: A Journal of Imagining America, Vol. 2 No. 2

Submissions address alternatives to siloed, static, linear job trajectories that public scholars, designers, and artists find and generate. Contributors consider ways of applying skills associated with one discipline to something else, or moving between an academic position and on-the-ground engagement.

Public: A Journal of Imagining America 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 are interested in projects, pedagogies, resources, and ideas that reflect rich engagements among diverse participants, organizations, disciplines, and sectors. Public is part of the national consortium Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, committed to the intersection of culture and participatory democracy, and is aligned with its Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals.

In January 2015, we will accept submissions to Vol. 3 No. 2, Globally Engaged Scholarship and Creative Practice. For more information see http://public.imaginingamerica.org/about/call-for-submissions/.

November 5, 2014

Disasters, Extension, and the Cultural Arts: Unlikely partners?

By Mike Spranger, Professor and Community Development Specialist at University of Florida

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.

How can the cultural arts help in post-disaster community recovery programs? A lot!

In 2012, tropical storm Debby dumped more than 30 inches of rain in a 24 hour period on the community of Live Oak, Florida. Immediately after this event, there was mayhem as the community dealt with the aftermath of the storm that included flooding of its downtown area and more than 30 sinkholes in the area.

Downtown Live Oak, Florida, during the flood that resulted from tropical storm Debbie in 2012.

Downtown Live Oak, Florida, during the flood that resulted from tropical storm Debbie in 2012. Photo courtesy of the author.

Families were displaced, businesses closed and the small community had over $5 million in damages. Particularly devastating was the formation of a large sink hole approximately 180 feet deep in the downtown area between the courthouse and several historic buildings. These buildings were extensively damaged and had to be condemned and demolished.

A major question became: what can Live Oak do with this vacant property in the damaged downtown area?

The Governor declared Live Oak a disaster area and visited the site. Federal and state funds and technical assistance flowed in, yet the community still seemed adrift. Newly elected Councilman Keith Mixon wondered what other resources could be utilized to help the community.

Councilman Mixon, who stands over six feet tall, shows the apex of the flood waters. Photo courtesy of the author.

Councilman Mixon, who stands over six feet tall, shows the apex of the flood waters. Photo courtesy of the author.

Mr. Mixon contacted the local Cooperative Extension office to see if they could provide any assistance. The county extension director reached out to University of Florida Extension faculty in my office to see what we could do.

Our first answer was that we don’t know, but we were willing to travel to the community to find out what the needs were. We hosted a scoping session with local elected officials, city staff, and members of the business community. This was followed up by review of various reports and follow-up calls with elected officials and staff.

Using the arts to see things differently

Then in late November 2012 we led a community vision session where government officials, business leaders and interested members of the public attended. At this meeting, the University of Florida community development specialists provided a good news/bad news message. The bad news was that we told them we were not the panacea to their problems. The good news was that the solutions to their problems rested with those who were in the room and others in the community.

We also discussed other communities had resolved similar problems. A brain-storming session next led us to coordinate a bus tour to see how Community Redevelopment Agency funds had been utilized for revitalization efforts in surrounding communities.

The bus tour brought together members of the public and private sector, including artists and individuals interested in the local heritage. During the bus tour, there was an “Aha!” moment when several elected officials saw they could do things differently in Live Oak. They began to imagine utilizing their redevelopment funds creatively by including cultural arts and involving the community in ways that they had not previously considered.

In the spring, the Extension community development specialists also saw an opportunity for the community to apply for a grant funded by the National Endowment of the Arts, working through the Citizens Institute on Rural Design (CIRD).CIRD provides seed money and technical assistance for rural communities to build on their existing assets. Working with the CED, the community put an application together. Their submission for the CIRD grant award was selected from a national pool of 31 applicants. The county Extension director worked closely with the CIRD staff and community leaders over the next several months to coordinate a community workshop. She also was able to secure a major grant from the National Association of Realtors to help in these efforts.

In the fall of 2013, a community workshop was held in the historic passenger train depot that brought together local leaders from non-profits, community organizations, and government to discuss and identify actionable solutions to the community’s pressing design challenges. Four nationally renowned experts provided hands-on presentations about the development of a new marketing brand for the community, an examination of the connectivity and walkability within the community, and ideas for new business development.

During the community workshop, participants created prototypes of how they imagined a rebuilt Live Oak. Photo courtesy of the author.

During the community workshop, participants created prototypes of how they imagined a rebuilt Live Oak. Photo courtesy of the author.

Active in this workshop were a number of artists who brought their ideas of the cultural arts into the discussion. The workshop took a fun, active approach where participants created their own models for their ideal community of Live Oak, worked with the local artists to sketch logos for the town, and considered pedestrian and cyclist street improvement on a walking tour. Food and social activities were also prominent as ways to bring this active group closer together. A local businessman developed a great video that demonstrated the energy and enthusiasm generated by these activities.

The workshop closed on Saturday morning with a community-wide event at Heritage Park and Gardens where all the work that had been done over the course of two days was unveiled. The newly designed logos and model city that were created during the workshop was shared with community members who attended this event.

Building a hands-on community, together

Today, there is a new buzz in the air as residents begin to see the city as a glass half full of potential and promises rather than a glass half empty with pessimism and no hope for the future. Over the past two years, University of Florida Extension faculty have brought resources and expertise to bear to help build local community capacity in downtown redevelopment.

A number of positive things have happened since the devastating flood of June 2012. There is increased participation in local meetings as public notices are now sent to a new listserv developed as a way to link those involved in these initial meetings. Elected officials and city staff have increased their knowledge and skills in utilizing public funds and implementing projects in their redevelopment activities. New projects have been funded, including The Rails to Trails Project and The West Side Retail Area Project. The Live Oak Heritage Trail, which connects the downtown with Heritage Park and Gardens is now complete, and sidewalks have been installed that connect it to the downtown.

Community citizens are more engaged. They now approach the county Extension office and elected officials in unsolicited proposals (e.g. Paint the Town, Artist in Residence, Parade of Trees, Lunch in the Park) to assist in the redevelopment efforts. Elected officials and business leaders took a feasibility tour for ideas to build an amphitheater for cultural events. A startup business retention and expansion program was created.

New programs and events are making the downtown more vibrant: a Farmer’s Market now takes place there every Friday. The downtown of Live Oak also came alive with the July 4th Freedom Festival, a family friendly event that attracted approximately 3,000 people.


Most recently the first Jazz, Arts and Blues Festival was held on October 24-25, 2014. Councilman Mixon was the catalyst for the festival. The event started on Friday with a “Paint-out” with local artists, followed by an Artist Wine and Cheese Reception and a “Wet Canvas Sale.”

On Saturday, a number of bands from Florida and south Georgia entertained more than 1,000 individuals who came to enjoy the great music, food and weather. This was on the site of two historical buildings that were condemned due to the 2012 floods. This area was just designated as “Festival Park” by the Live Oak community redevelopment agency. Plans are already underway to plan a bigger event for 2015.

The community is also looking at revisiting their rich history and providing opportunities for both residents and visitors to learn about it. In November they will be holding the Raid on the Suwannee Reenactment and Living History Festival at Heritage Park. This will be a living history event and civic war enactment. There will be events throughout the day leading up to the event.

Have all the issues been resolved in Live Oak? No, far from it. The community redevelopment efforts remain a work in progress. But the community is on a much more positive direction with renewed commitment, and people IN the community are recognizing that they are the ones that can move Live Oak forward.

Elected officials have said that the University of Florida Extension faculty helped move the community forward and provided the community with new direction and purpose. Mr. Mixon publicly stated in a letter to University of Florida administrators that Live Oak had significant funds and technical assistance from federal and state agencies to deal with the aftermath of the flood, but that Extension helped bring the community together. However, the bottom line is that members in the community now recognize that they can make a difference in their community and are taking action to become more engaged and active. They are also building on their rich history and talents and realizing that the cultural arts can be a vital part of their community and their future.


Mike Spranger is Professor and Extension Community Development Specialist in the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences at the University of Florida. He has 35 years of experience in university outreach activities. He previously worked at the University of Washington, Washington State University and University of Wisconsin. Contact him directly at spranger[at]ufl.edu.

Opinions presented on the Extension Reconsidered blog belong to the authors. Contact Jen Jensen (jkj37[at]cornell.edu) 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.

November 5, 2014

Emory works to advance the public and civic purposes of the humanities through Imagining America

Written by Corey Goettsch, PhD Candidate in History and a graduate assistant in the Laney Graduate School. [Note: This blog post originally appeared on graduateschool.emory.edu on November 4, 2014. It is posted here with permission.]

Humanities scholars were once visible public figures. In the early 20th century, Woodrow Wilson, a historian, became president of the United States. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., famed author of The Age of Jackson and The Thousand Days, taught at Harvard before becoming a member of the John F. Kennedy Administration as a Special Assistant to the President. At Columbia University in the 1950s and 1960s, Richard Hofstadter, C. Wright Mills, and Lionel Trilling regularly stood in the public spotlight. But starting in the 1970s, humanities scholars became increasingly isolated at their universities. Ironically, as humanities scholars’ work became more inclusive and democratic in its content – covering workers, women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community – it became more remote from public discourses.

Re-engaging the Humanities through Imagining America

As of late, however, there has been a movement to reengage the humanities with the world outside the academy and to use humanities scholars’ work in America’s diverse history and culture to help promote a more democratic society. A consortium with approximately100 universities and partner organizations as members, Imagining America is a leading player in this movement.

Featuring major participation and leadership by faculty and graduate students from Emory University, Imagining America is an organization that seeks to “create democratic spaces to foster and advance publicly engaged scholarship that draws on arts, humanities, and design.” Imagining America grew out of a White House Initiative from the late 1990s. It emerged in the context of a nascent “’informal movement’ amongst artists, humanists, designers, and other scholars in the cultural disciplines who passionately wanted to claim engagement” with the larger community as integral to their identities as scholars. The initial host campus was the University of Michigan until IA moved to Syracuse in 2007. The organization hosts yearly national conferences, including one that recently convened in Atlanta from October 9-11, 2014.

A Comprehensive Mission

Imagining America has a comprehensive mission with many goals. One is full participation: universities ought to partner with their communities to recruit underrepresented groups for participation in higher education and address challenges within those communities. Another is extension: humanities scholars should extend their work beyond the academy to become more publicly engaged and contribute to their community. Imagining America is pushing to make publicly-engaged academic work, not just traditional scholarly articles and monographs, included among the work that enables junior scholars to acquire tenure. Imagining America also advocates weaving public engagement into undergraduate and graduate education. Undergraduates should be trained in making informed decisions based on evidence and learn how to collaborate with others in their communities to push for meaningful change. For graduate students, Imagining America has run the Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) program since 2003, which is developing a framework for publicly-engaged graduate training and enabling graduate students who are interested in engaged scholarship to connect with peers and senior faculty. And finally, Imagining America is in the process of developing assessment models for engaged scholarship projects. Through what is called integrated assessment, universities are asked to team up with community stakeholders and use case studies to define what engaged assessment should be, looking beyond the semester and the university to see how collaborative projects are affecting the community as a whole.

Imagining America at Emory

Emory faculty and students are deeply involved in Imagining America and recently took part in the annual national conference hosted in Atlanta. Dr. Vialla Hartfield-Mendez, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, is the chief faculty representative of Imagining America at Emory, and she is also the Director of Engaged Learning at Emory University’s Center for Community Partnerships. Through an innovative collaboration between the Laney Graduate School and the Center for Community Partnerships, there are also three Laney Graduate School-funded Imagining America fellows from LGS’ graduate student body. All three were also selected as Imagining America PAGE Fellows. Their successive year-long fellowships made it possible for Emory to break new ground as the principal host for the national Imagining America conference, working over the span of three years to cultivate Emory’s membership in the consortium, participate in several Imagining America workshops and other activities, help to organize and facilitate the local conference steering committee, and plan and implement the details of the 2014 conference.


Dr. Vialla Hartfield-Mendez, IA National Conference, October 2014 (Photo by Lee Wexler)


IA graduate fellows Sarita Alami and Dr. Shan Mukhtar, IA National Conference, October 2014 (Photo by Lee Wexler)

Sarita Alami, a doctoral candidate in History and Emory’s 2014-2015 Imagining America fellow, is currently completing her dissertation about newspapers that prison inmates edited and published, focusing on the ways in which “prisoners have used the printed word to become activists and shape their experience behind bars.” Meghan Tierney, a doctoral candidate in Art History and the first Imagining America fellow to be appointed for 2012-2013, studies the Ancient Americas, and her dissertation is about depictions of shamanic experiences in Nasca ceramics. Dr. Shan Mukhtar, a recent graduate of the Institute for the Liberal Arts and the 2013-2014 Imagining America fellow, specializes in Critical Race Theory and Ethnic Studies. Her dissertation, which she has begun revising into a book project, focuses on constructs of race in academia in the post-Civil Rights American South and looks at how “diversity was defined and implemented in a majority-minority university.”

Involvement with Imagining America has enriched the professional lives of these LGS graduate participants. Sarita Alami recently led a three-hour session at the annual Imagining America conference about community-based learning that “included faculty and administrators from 15 institutions, nonprofit CEOs, and a university provost.” This was not an experience she “could [have gotten] from a [traditional] graduate fellowship.” Her involvement in Imagining America has “put me in touch with hundreds of other people who are doing the same things.” According to Sarita, “the network I’ve built through Imagining America has reminded me that the academy can be a crucial, driving force for change in the world.” While at Emory, she has worked with such community-based programs as The Transforming Community Project and the Center for Community Partnerships and has taught place-based courses that have engaged with community organizations.

Meghan Tierney found that Imagining America opened up an avenue of academic work that was previously unknown to her, saying that “Public scholarship was not on my radar before I became involved in Imagining America, but now I see it as central to my career going forward [and has] … enlivened my experience at Emory and in academia in general.” Since starting as a fellow, she has worked with the Michael C. Carlos Museum to bring Nasca art objects to a wider public. The Carlos Museum hosts Nasca works, and she has given tours of the collections of the museum to local primary and secondary schools with large Latino populations, helping Atlanta’s diverse students connect with the Americas’ multicultural history in a very tangible way. Meghan also co-authored, with Vialla Hartfield-Mendez, an article about the Carlos Museum’s public engagement with the Atlanta Latino community in the inaugural edition of PUBLIC: A Journal of Imagining America.

Through her involvement with Imagining America, Dr. Shan Mukhtar endeavors to help change how diversity is understood at universities. The purpose of her engaged scholarship is not just to provide a critical perspective on how diversity has hitherto been defined in the university. She seeks “to intervene quite directly into existing diversity work and provide alternative ways of addressing ethno-racism, reforming the social, economic, and political inequities that persist among different racial and ethnic groups, and creating more substantive spaces for intercultural relationships.” Shan has found that Imagining America has opened avenues for her to do this: she was able to work on “higher education organizing workshops with staff, faculty, and fellow students based on IAF [Industrial Areas Foundation] labor organizing strategies and cultural organizing methods from the Civil Rights Era.”

Emory’s Vision Carried Forward

Imagining America and local initiatives at Emory like the Center for Community Partnerships and the Center for Ethics are tangible evidence of Emory University’s commitment to ethical inquiry and using research and teaching to meaningfully influence the community at large. Engaged scholarship is a natural outgrowth of Emory’s commitment to courageous leadership and positively transforming the world. LGS students like Sarita, Meghan, and Shan, through their own work as well as experiences with Imagining America, will carry forward their commitment to engaged scholarship, planting seeds of change wherever they go.