Over the next six weeks, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I have the honor of serving as Chief Policy Wonk) Cultural Agents will host Imaginings in 15 different towns and cities across the nation. Most of these vibrant, art-infused, highly participatory community dialogues have their own event pages on Facebook other or other sites; click the links to learn where and when. (And scroll down to read about the 2014 Imaginings to whet your appetite for more).

As a new people-powered department, we knew we wanted to engage a broad public in collectively envisioning culture shift. In 2013, when we dreamed up Imaginings as the centerpiece of the USDAC’s local community work, we tapped into a powerful shared realization: everything created must first be imagined. It’s a radical and essential act to imagine a more just, vibrant, and creative society; and even more so to act together, making our shared dreams real.

Across the cultural landscape, powerful dreamers everywhere are tapping into this same deep truth. Just two quick examples: the young organizers who formed Dream Defenders in 2013 to “develop the next generation of radical leaders to realize and exercise our independent collective power” chose a fierce and evocative name for their work. Earlier this spring, when Black Lives Matter called for voices to “help imagine a world where black life is valued by everyone, our rights are upheld, and the beauty and power that is our blackness is celebrated,” they called their action “In a world where Black Lives Matter, I imagine…..”

In every part of the country, in every condition and culture, countless people are imagining the world we want to inhabit. Here at the nation’s first people-powered department, we are doing our part. The Harrisonburg, VA, and Fort Lauderdale, FL Imaginings have already taken place. Look for-on-the ground accounts as Imaginings unfold in the USDAC blog.

Here’s a preview of just a few of the upcoming Imaginings:

On June 2nd in Brooklyn, Cultural Agent Betty Yu and her team are hosting an Imagining that brings together “community members, organizers, artists, cultural workers, and other stakeholders to imagine the creative approaches, organizing strategy and bold vision we need to win anti-gentrification and anti-displacement fights in NYC now and into the future.” The Imagining’s Facebook page attracted a flood of RSVPs, indicating just how much people want new visions of possibility, how strongly the connect to the question Betty posed: “What the year 2034 might look like when art’s transformative power has been fully integrated into all aspects of public and community organizing life, such as housing as a human right?”

In Decatur, GA, on June 6th, Cultural Agent Mattice Haynes and her team are planning art exhibits, artmaking, World Café conversations, and more, founded on this invitation to share: “Each and every one of us has a creative power even if you don’t consider yourself an artist. Come learn more about your unique power and how to share it with others for the benefit of all. If you are someone who cares about creative, inclusive, thriving neighborhoods and communities then this event is for you.”

On May 31st in Philadelphia, the Citywide Imagining planned by Cultural Agent Julia Terry and her team takes place in the midst of the ArtWell Festival. It focuses on imagining the future of education. “We will use art, performance and dialogue to create a collective vision for what education in Philadelphia could look like in our most hopeful future, and map ways to get there.”

On June 6th in Miami, Cultural Agent Naomi Ross and her team invite people “to think in fresh ways about how we can address economic inequality, climate change, education, criminal justice or other issues that are impacting the people in greater Miami. You don’t have to be an artist; just care about our future quality of life here in Miami-Dade County.”

The following weekend, on June 14th, Cultural Agent Dan Godston and his team will wrap the Chicago Imagining around a performance of Xtigone by Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, reimagining Sophocles’ play Antigone as a dance- and music-infused story of gun and gang violence in that city. In pre- and post-performance interactions, theater-goers will reimagine Chicago.

“Visioning” has become a common verb in organizational and community planning processes.Imaginings are visioning plus, grounded in four principles:

  • The timeframe for Imaginings is long – 20 years into the future – giving people the freedom to envision a destination without having to first slog through journey that gets them there. Once you set a course that excites people, taking steps gets easier.
  • Imaginings aim to take what we know about the transformative power of art and culture – their capacity to stimulate imagination, nourish empathy, and strengthen resilience – and envision our communities completely infused with that power. What if we used theater to act out possible scenarios for community development? What if music and drawing were an integral part of schools’ science classes? What if all recycling centers were art materials depots?
  • A key value for Imaginings is inclusion. Each event embodies equality and openness, such that everyone feels a meaningful invitation to take part. Consider an event where kids and their grandparents feel equally that their contributions are welcome, where people of all races, religions, genders, and abilities meet and engage as equals: that’s an Imagining.
  • Finally, in an Imagining, form follows function. People share stories, make art, dance and make music together, using the art-based methods that are the strongest ways to generate full presence and jumpstart powerful dreams. Feeding their own imaginations, they demonstrate what is possible for everyone.

Imaginings are always free, but most of them require RSVPs on account of space limitations. If you haven’t already enlisted as a Citizen Artist, sign up now to receive updates. And be sure to check the links on the Imaginings page for information – you still haven’t heard about Passaic, Cleveland, Boston, St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Seattle, or Stockton, and you don’t want to miss them!

Here’s asong that Prince wrote for the people of Baltimore, naming it after that city.

Nobody got in nobody’s way
So I guess you could say it was a good day
At least a little better than the day in Baltimore
Does anybody hear us pray
For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray?
Peace is more than the absence of war
Absence of war


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