What Is Civic Imagination Stations (CIS) and what Was My Responsibility as the CIS Lead Artist?

In the March 1, 2023 newsletter (https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2023/03/01/civic-imagination-stations/), ALA executive director, Tracie D. Hall shared this about Civic Imagination Stations:

“Recognizing that communities with limited access to the arts are the same ones that experience limited broadband access and digital literacy, the Civic Imagination Stations project paired staff from 12 libraries with local artist dyads in August 2022 to implement arts programming that builds information literacy and digital skills.

The project has brought together academic and public library teams in rural and urban communities, including The People’s Library in Fox, Arkansas; Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Library and Herman B Wells Library at Indiana University Bloomington; and Burnsville (W.Va.) Public Library. The cohort participated in workshops and coaching led by Civic Imagination Stations lead artists Willa J. Taylor of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and Michael Rohd of the ensemble Sojourn Theatre.

Cohorts are expected to culminate their work later this year with the implementation of arts-based projects designed to help forge deeper connections between users, libraries, their larger communities, and one another. The end goal is helping library users and program participants see themselves and one another, as Jenkins and collaborators write, as “civic agents capable of making change” and “as an equal participant within a democratic culture, and as empathetic to the plight of others different than one’s self.”

As the lead artist for the Civic Imagination Stations, I was both the faculty member who taught the class and the artist who would co-create with students. With our collaboration in mind, I designed the course to focus on what I considered to be one of the most pressing issues of our time – clean and accessible water – and to ensure class time included the librarians and digital humanities staff. It was important that all collaborators had ample opportunities to co-teach with me, and to provide classes in the digital and technical knowledge and skills we needed for the project. This was also an opportunity for me to learn from colleagues and graduate students. 

However, because I am a poet and creative writer, and the purpose of CIS was to have libraries and artists collaborate, I wanted to contribute a work in one of my mediums: poetry. I was moved by the stories that Dhakir Abdullah shared about his experiences with water as a child. And, listening to Ms. Tavernier’s memories about growing up on an island resonated with my growing up in the Caribbean.After seeing and touching the amazing family and ancestral quilts of Ms. Holliday, and hearing one story that she told, I knew I wanted to draft something to honor what I had heard. 

Writing poetry is a slow process, sometimes taking months or years to write a single poem. It requires such commitment to history and to listening to what the words-not-yet-formed want to say. I offer, therefore, two works-in-progress to share how arts-based research and creations can deepen our connections to history and offer alternative ways to share histories often hidden or silenced.

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