By the late 1990s, the national conversation about higher education’s civic purpose was well established, reinvigorated during the previous decade. Newly created centers for service‐learning and community partnerships were advancing higher education’s commitment to engagement. However, values of reciprocity and mutual benefit sometimes went unrealized, and humanities, arts, and design were underrepresented.

Imagining America was launched at a 1999 White House Conference initiated by the White House Millennium Council, the University of Michigan, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The name Imagining America reflected the theme of the White House Millennium Council that focused on renewing participation in all walks of U.S. life: “Honor the Past – Imagine the Future.”

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Publicly engaged artists, designers, scholars, and community activists working toward the democratic transformation of higher education and civic life.


Imagining America creates democratic spaces to foster and advance publicly engaged scholarship that draws on arts, humanities, and design. We catalyze change in campus practices, structures, and policies that enables artists and scholars to thrive and contribute to community action and revitalization.


● Catalyze and sustain regional, national, and global conversations about publicly engaged scholarship that address significant problems

● Advance diversity, inclusion, and intercultural dialogue as means for social equity on campuses and in communities

● Demonstrate, document, and assess the impact of democratic scholarship and cross‐sector collaboration integrating humanities, arts, and design

● Model democratic publicly engaged scholarship and creative practice at IA’s host campus and among its member institutions

● Promote forms of professional and leadership development that support publicly engaged scholarship, with attention to humanities, arts, and design

● Support, mentor, and learn from democratic, publicly engaged graduate and undergraduate student scholarship


● Full participation that embodies and enacts cultural and social equity, diversity, and inclusion

● Critical and pluralistic approaches to ways of knowing about the world and acting in it

● Creativity and innovation in developing and mobilizing theory and knowledge with communities

● Reciprocity in campus‐community partnerships, research and creative activity, teaching and learning, and assessment


Imagining America’s leadership includes its national advisory board, staff, and PAGE (Publicly Active Graduate Education) co-directors. Board members advise in carrying out the purposes of the organization and adding broad constituent perspectives to decision-making. Staff members advance the work of the consortium by providing creative and administrative leadership for IA’s initiatives. PAGE co-directors annually select a class of PAGE fellows, design, and lead a summit for the fellows at the national conference, and organize the fellows’ yearlong working group.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who can become an IA member?

The consortium is comprised of colleges and universities. In addition, we are currently exploring additional member categories to include academic centers and departments, and nonprofit humanities, arts, and design organizations that are collaborating with higher education institutions.

How much does it cost to be an IA member?

Colleges and universities pay between $500 and $5,000 per year depending on their number of full‐time equivalent students and the amount they spend on instructional costs per student. Annual membership is billed in July. Contact us to find out what your membership would cost.

Is IA membership for humanities, arts, and design OR for the entire campus?

Both. Membership will benefit leaders in humanities, arts, and design and those in other fields as well.  In addition to enhancing humanities, arts, and design, colleges and universities have leveraged their IA membership to foster interdisciplinary collaborations with professors in the sciences. Our collaborative research initiatives are relevant to many disciplines, such as our research on tenure and promotion policy for public scholarship, integrated assessment of public scholarship that includes community partners, and the career pathways for public scholars.

How do members participate in IA?

The annual national conference in the fall provides an opportunity for IA members to discuss research; participate in seminars and community-based workshops; and generally be renewed and re‐inspired towards public scholarship and creative practice. Each summer, IA hosts an institute on cultural organizing. IA supports member institutions to host regional meetings based on their interests. IA members contribute to publications, most prominently Public: A Journal of Imagining America, our peer‐reviewed, multimedia e‐journal focused on humanities, arts, and design in public life. Through IA research groups, IA members address issues of importance to the consortium.

How do community partners benefit from IA membership?

Through participation in IA, colleges and universities develop their capacity to forge and sustain more equitable community partnerships. IA’s national conference, summer institute, ongoing research, and publications are enriched by the contributions of community partners.

Host Institution

UC Davis

After its 1999 launch at the White House, Imagining America was based at the University of Michigan through 2007, and Syracuse University through the summer of 2017. After a national selection process, we transitioned to University of California, Davis, IA’s new hosting partner for a renewable, five-year term. Through local partnerships and creative teaching and research projects, we contribute our engaged humanities, arts, and design practice to UC Davis’s development as an “anchor institution” in its city and region.

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