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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We envision a world of expansive social imagination, constructed by multiple ways of knowing, where people work together to nurture healthy, vibrant, and joyful communities.


The Imagining America consortium (IA) brings together scholars, artists, designers, humanists, and organizers to imagine, study, and enact a more just and liberatory ‘America’ and world. Working across institutional, disciplinary, and community divides, IA strengthens and promotes public scholarship, cultural organizing, and campus change that inspires collective imagination, knowledge-making, and civic action on pressing public issues.

By dreaming and building together in public, IA creates the conditions to shift culture and transform inequitable institutional and societal structures.



We believe . . .

Imagining America is committed to bringing people together as our full selves in critical yet hopeful spaces to imagine better ways of living, learning and working together. To do this work, we believe:

• It is important to struggle with the idea of ‘America’. The idea of ‘America’ embodies both the prophetic vision and legacy of social movements that have fought for a fully equitable broad-based popular democracy, and a troubling history of violence, oppression, and genocide. To realize our vision, we believe that it is important to struggle with this contradiction and how it has and continues to manifest domestically, regionally, and globally.

• Creative culture is an important site of liberation. The bold power of art and design holds the key to bringing people together in imagining and embodying a better future. Creative practices force us to suspend belief, step outside of dead-end thinking, and imagine a different way of being. Collaborative creative culture-making brings people together in ways that foster empathy, joy, play, and connection.

• Nothing is completely new. Our work builds upon the strengths, legacies, and innovations of our elders and ancestors while simultaneously lifting the voices of youth. The most powerful work is intergenerational and incorporates multiple opportunities to learn from each other.

• Our work must be radically inclusive. In a society marked by historical and ongoing forms of oppression, where invaluable indigenous and community-based knowledge is often marginalized, our work depends upon supporting more inclusive institutional and social structures, and incorporating multiple ways of knowing.






• How we learn and work with one another matters. We believe in the capacity of every human being to learn, grow, create knowledge, and lead change. Teaching and organizing that is driven by curiosity, care, compassion, openness, and belief in everyone’s intellectual, creative, and leadership capacity holds the key to building individual and collective agency/power.

• Living up to our values requires institutional and societal change. This includes, and goes beyond, supporting higher education institutions in achieving their public purpose and towards greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in a truly participatory democratic culture.

• Organized ideas matter in the project of personal, institutional, and societal transformation. A sense of what is possible (even imaginable) is partially defined by ideas about how the world works. Public humanities, community engaged scholarship, and storytelling is central to the long-haul project of social change towards a more just, nurturing, and equitable world.


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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