Imagining America Call for Proposals

2012 Imagining America National Conference

October 5-7, 2012, New York, NY

Linked Fates and Futures: Communities and Campuses as Equitable Partners?


Co-hosted by Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, Columbia University, New York University,  and The New School

Slashed budgets, debt burdens, speculation unchecked, diminished access, narrowing measures of worth. Without support for a reorientation of values and realignment of priorities, higher education and community organizations committed to a just, equitable, and fully participatory vision of the world face a challenge to their most cherished ideals and in some cases, their very survival. Against these forces of unequal benefit, induced scarcity, and reduced expectation, this is a moment that calls for a bold and ambitious voicing of where our desired future lies and how we will get there.


The 2012 Imagining America conference, to be held in New York City, October 5-7, is an occasion to reflect critically on the shared predicaments of democratically-oriented, cultural work in higher education and community-based organizations; to articulate languages and practices of possibility; and to develop and strengthen cross-sectoral networks committed to moving such work forward. The conference is grounded in approaches and experience of the arts, humanities and design drawn from both academic and community knowledge—which is at once local, national, and global. Our aim is to craft a strategic, mobilizing, and policy-savvy framework for sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships that advances full participation of all constituents in the range of decisions that affect our common future.  Building equitable partnerships among higher education and community organizations into its design, the conference aims to develop and disseminate critical, collaborative, and creative forms of new knowledge and leadership. We seek to enlarge the scope of who participates in learning and knowledge production; how that knowledge is generated, valued, and shared; and how to develop solutions to the dilemmas we face. The work we undertake now will build conditions and relationships that are needed to address the crises facing our communities and institutions and enable us to reimagine and remake our future.


The IA conference will explore where campus and community fates are linked and how theory and practice, aspiration and action can be fruitfully entwined. The over-arching framework of the three day conference brings together New York City-based programming with initiatives taking place around the country. To maximize our work together, we ask all who submit proposals to take this framework into consideration and to place their own work in dialogue with the locally generated themes if possible.

The three days will be structured as follows: The first day begins with plenary sessions that include perspectives on shared visions and challenges from people positioned in higher education, community, and policy, with afternoon sessions taking place at various community sites around New York City. The second day incorporates report-backs from and performances based upon the activities and conversations from the first day and focuses on narratives of possibility and innovation. The concluding day is about identifying implications for institutional sustainability for public-minded campuses and community organizations, IA’s own organizational capacity, and national policy.

Sessions will embody multiple formats for public engagement that integrate different ways of knowing, foregrounding the role of humanities, arts, and design. Integrating insights from community, education, and policy, three large thematic areas will be explored:


1) Full, Equitable Partnerships: All manner of partnerships and collaborations have formed between campuses and communities. What makes for effective and sustainable partnerships between higher education and cultural and community organizations? Who is involved in teaching and learning, hiring, curriculum design? Where and for whom are programs designed, and what is their long term impact? The aim is to develop a partnership framework that could be adopted nationally.

Partnerships also raise the issue of organizational sustainability. While higher education looks to be headed for a tuition and debt bubble, many cultural organizations, community-based and otherwise-situated, face dim prospects of survival. Given constraints in both the for-profit and nonprofit models, what alternative organizational forms are available?  How might resources be pooled and shared more effectively?  How might research and investigative capacities of higher education be channeled to serve the needs of community organizations, and reciprocally, how might community-based expertises be integrated more deliberately in higher ed?


2) Linking Diversity and Engagement: The success and sustainability of initiatives aimed at full participation and public engagement depend upon linking both and building them into the hard-wiring of institutions.  This theme builds on IA’s ongoing Linking project, which asks:

  • How does the goal of increasing institutional diversity and full participation interact with developing the capacity and commitment to address tough problems facing multiple communities? What strategies and frameworks enable these linkages to form and last?
  • How do activities, relationships and resources cluster to become arenas for promoting broader sustainable change? How do change and policy leaders build out systematically from hubs and hot spots at the forefront of change? What can one initiative learn from another about that building out process?
  • How can arts, design, and humanities serve as particular vehicles for linking diversity/ inclusion with public scholarship/ engagement?


3) Arts, Culture, and Community and Economic Development: Higher education institutions and government agencies have long directed their resources and investments in ways that decisively impact surrounding communities. What approaches to equitable community and economic development strengthen local neighborhoods? What kinds of decision-making, policy frameworks and incentives would be productive for under-resourced populations and institutions? What do self determined approaches look like that draw on local community assets? What kinds of organizing and organizational leadership is needed to advance these common goals, and how can the arts and culture contribute?


Imagining America invites you to consider your work in dialogue with one of the above themes, and in the arc of the conference. Running through all of the above we invite sessions that articulate the role of youth. We also welcome a cadre of proposals that do not fit in this framework but nevertheless advance engaged theory and practice through open and critical dialogue with other conference participants. IA is particularly interested in proposals that contribute to ongoing areas of interest to our members, namely engaged practices in humanities, arts, and design as they intersect with: the environment and climate change; public health; incarceration and reentry; feminism and feminist activism;  faith/spirituality; and international engagement.


The submission deadline is Monday, April 23.


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