2014 National Conference Call for Participation

By Imagining America | February 05, 2014

Organizing. Culture. Change.

Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life
2014 National Conference
Atlanta, Georgia

October 9–11th, 2014
Pre-conference workshops, October 8th

Co-hosted by Emory University, in partnership with Kennesaw State University and Alternate ROOTS

Call for Participation:

The 2014 Imagining America conference, to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, October 9–11, is animated by three keywords: Organizing. Culture. Change. These keywords represent concentrations of energy and activity across higher education and within the IA consortium—contested terrains that demand critical discourse and analysis. We invite and challenge Imagining America consortium members, and their institutional and community partners, to sharpen our collective understanding of the nature and promise of organizing culture change; to provoke conversation and debate around the many meanings of these keywords; to explore the distinctive contributions that methodologies, concepts, theories, and knowledge from arts, humanities, and design fields make to the work of organizing culture change; and to illuminate how organizing culture change can transform higher education’s role in the work of democracy.

Culture change is already a reality, both within higher education and beyond. It is partly the result of powerful and complex global forces that are restructuring our institutions and reshaping how we live our lives, for better and for worse. Our conference theme is an invitation to engage but also move beyond the work of analyzing and criticizing the kind of culture change that global forces are producing. Through careful and critical exploration of work that is already underway in our consortium, our central purpose is to advance our collective capacity to organize positive culture change in ways that align with IA’s commitment to cross-sectoral engagement and mutually beneficial partnerships. To this end, we seek proposals that will offer opportunities for conference attendees to take up one or more of the following key questions:

  • What forces for culture change are already underway in and beyond higher education? In what ways and to what extent are they products of intentional organizing?
  • What specific approaches to organizing are IA members using (such as action-research, cultural organizing, popular education, broad-based community organizing)?
  • Using the public narrative framework developed by Marshall Ganz, what is “story of us,” and “story of now” emerging within IA and among its members? How can these stories be used to ground, focus, and inspire effective organizing?
  • What practices, strategies, and tactics will inspire and support the work of organizing culture change in ways that help us close the gap between our own best judgments of “the world as it is” and “the world as it should be”?

Goals & National Context

Our main goal at this year’s conference is to facilitate a turn of IA and its membership toward the work of organizing culture change through narrative inquiry, analysis, and action. We seek to share and document some of the complex stories about higher education’s democratic engagement movement from the people within and outside of the academy. We anticipate personal and institutional stories that will illuminate the culture change IA stakeholders wish to bring about as well as the culture change that is already occurring. To sharpen our collective understanding of the “story of us” and the “story of now,” we invite critical analysis about the state of publicly-engaged higher education, in general, and the arts, design, and humanities, in particular. One projected outcome will be an exploration of what counts as meaningful action for IA as a national consortium, and the development of specific vehicles, avenues, and practices that can make such action possible.

This year’s conference builds on the IA consortium’s work during the 2012 conference in New York City and the 2013 conference in Syracuse, NY, focusing on the recognition that transforming the culture and the politics of higher education will require a multi-pronged organizing strategy that encompasses the development of public narratives, meaningful public relationships, scholarly research, and avenues for action.

We encourage prospective presenters and participants to draw from IA materials, including its Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals statement, Theory of Change, ongoing Research & Action projects, and the Conference Section in the last issue of Public: A Journal of Imagining America; to consider how you might use Marshall Ganz’s public narrative framework in your sessions; and to focus on this year’s conference keywords—organizing, culture, and change.

We hope you will also take the opportunity to submit to the special issue of Public on “Organizing. Culture. Change.” that will appear some months following the conference. The journal provides IA with a unique opportunity to share “the story of us” and “the story of now” more broadly than among those who attend the annual conference. For details, go to

Local Context

Having “risen from the ashes” after the Civil War, Atlanta rose to prominence as the capital of the New South—a south purported to be concerned more with business and industry and less the legacy of human slavery—in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite civil rights battles that included blockbusting and on-going challenges in school desegregation, beginning in the 1950s, the city embraced a new slogan as “the city too busy to hate.” While Atlanta struggled to shed its segregated past, it emerged as a diverse—and massive—metropolitan area. In the 1970s the city earned a reputation as an international business center just as Ebony Magazine labeled it the “black mecca” due to its black political power, prominent cultural institutions, and economic opportunities. The city likewise gained prominence as a destination for gays and a center for gay culture. And since the 1990s, Atlanta has attracted high numbers of Hispanic and Latinos. By the 2000s, Atlanta had become one of the nation’s most diverse metropolitan areas.

Sprawling across 10 counties and 3,000 square miles and home to 4.2 million people, metropolitan Atlanta boasts rich cultural traditions while still struggling to emerge from the more challenging aspects of its past. Host to the 1996 Olympic games, the city struggled to confront its homelessness issues while preventing more poor families from losing their homes to sports venues. At the same time, local implementation of federal housing policies resulted in the razing of traditional public housing communities and the use of housing vouchers to concentrate the poor in other sections of the city. In part as a result, Atlanta’s suburban poverty rate has increased 159% since 2000. Metropolitan residents’ love for cars and disdain for taxes and regional transportation solutions have meant on-going traffic congestion and lost business opportunities. And the region remains locked in a battle with Alabama and Florida over water access from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basins. Arguably still the capital of the South, Atlanta remains a city of dichotomies, a city that struggles to maintain the best aspects of its region while embracing change and facing up to its challenges. The city’s legacy as home to civil rights activists and organizations holds promise for those who seek to use the arts and humanities for democratic renewal and grassroots social change.

Session Formats

To provide greater focus for our collective efforts, IA is reducing the overall number of accepted proposals for the 2014 event.

We continue to encourage seminar proposals, which have the potential to include a large number of participants around an area of shared concern, and to enact the organizing principles IA is trying to cultivate.

Regardless of one’s preferred format, proposals should take the form that best facilitates critical and dialogic exchange around the proposed topic. Sessions may take, but are not limited to, the following formats:

  1. Seminar: An individual or team may lead a session with conference participants who have prepared in advance. Seminar proposals include strategies for pre-conference collaboration. We appreciate seminars with concrete goals for advancing work at the conference and/or for generating future collaborations among participants. After a limited number of seminars are selected, a call for participation will be announced on Imagining America’s website and via social media. Interested individuals will apply for admission to the session through the IA website. All confirmed participants are included in the conference program as presenters. Seminars that fail to attract at least 8 participants—excluding organizers—will be cancelled. Please note: Seminar leaders are responsible for convening participants, ensuring that they conform to expectations, and facilitating the session. Conference participants who have not prepared ahead of time but who are interested in the seminar will be welcome to audit.
  2. Media Session: The conference will include curated media screenings. We invite you to submit film, video, or audio clips, or excerpts from projects that utilize new media. Accepted submissions will be grouped and screened by themes and/or type of project. Sessions will be organized to allow for audience conversation with each presenter.
  3. Performance and Dialogue: These sessions provide the experience of particular performance-based engagement methodologies or innovative models of engaged performance. Sessions must include ample opportunity for discussion and critique.
  4. Poster: Conference attendees may present and solicit feedback on their existing and emerging projects by displaying a poster at a session dedicated to that format. Posters typically mix a brief narrative description with photographs, organizational or historical charts, maps, video, or other modes of presentation.
  5. Roundtable: Designed to generate discussion around a shared topic, issue, or action, roundtables begin with short statements (5–10 minutes) in response to questions distributed in advance by the organizer. The sessions are then largely discussion and feedback. Roundtables involving participants from different institutions, centers, and organizations are encouraged.
  6. Workshop: A facilitator sets the agenda, poses opening questions, and organizes participant activities and discussions. The session can focus on specific skill development, problems, resources for higher education-community partnerships, or work and conversation on particular issues.

Imagining America staff will facilitate additional connections among proposals once they are received. All accepted presenters must be willing to work with Imagining America to ensure that the session is integrated into the fabric of the entire conference and advances the conference goals.

Strong preference is given to proposals from Imagining America member institutions. The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2014.