Late this winter, and in preparation for IA’s upcoming Chicago conference, I attended my first Beyond the Bars conference in New York City. This incredible experience drew from me my first poem in years, and a manifesto drafted on the return flight to IA’s Davis headquarters. Inspiring these reflections was how I felt the first time I attended an IA event years earlier: everywhere conference attendees were embodying the hard but liberatory work of imagining.
They were describing the particulars – first voice narratives of (dis)belonging and place – and situating them within larger structures of patriarchy, privilege, white supremacy, capitalism, racial capitalism. This community was gently, but directly, pushing each other in the work of fully realizing the value of life, and finding and triggering a fierce compassion and love that is needed to ground, sustain, and realize so many visions of how we could live in sister- and brotherhood with each other. A place that foregrounded wellness, understanding that hurt people hurt, and healed people heal.
Is creating a society built on the bones of love rather than violence an impossibility? Does possible or impossible reduce the responsibility to try to live in this manner anyway? To aim to cover the bones of love with the muscle of purpose and the blood of joy? Ta-Nehisi Coates once said, “I have no idea if we can live in a world without subjugation, but when the final tally comes up, I’d like to say I was on the side of the people who were trying to NOT live in a world with subjugation.”
IA’s conference theme this year is directed toward the core of the work of imagining: the transformative use of our imaginations to build new, equitable, inclusive, and liberatory futures. Using the platform of our carceral systems to explore radical visionings and its more concrete, current manifestations, the 2018 Gathering (so termed by the local planning team to express this national coming together) will also consider the historic and contemporary structures designed to prevent us from living in full humanity with each other. For many of us within the IA consortium that dedicate our work to centering the worthiness of life, whether we work within higher education, the nonprofit field, in government, or elsewhere, this year’s conference asks us to consider how our work is connected to maintaining or dismantling systems that deny such worth.
As IA plans this year’s conference with a wonderful team of Chicago-area community leaders, artists, designers, scholars, and organizers, the responsibility of our theme is not lost on us. We bring these and additional considerations into our work as IA also undertakes an eighteen month strategic planning process, which is considering IA’s mission and work in light of the current state of higher education, the arts and culture field, and our local, regional, national, and international communities. These deliberations will invite network and public discussion beginning at the 2018 Gathering, with opportunities to shape IA’s work in the years ahead. Stay tuned for more to come!
We hope you join us in Chicago this year for what will most certainly be a powerful and magical event. And as always, if you happen to be in the area, please visit us in Davis! We are always cooking something up (sometimes literally).
Public artists, scholars, and advocates in the work of imagining America, we appreciate you.
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