Imagining America

Community theater meetingWagner College is a member institution of Imagining America, a growing consortium of over 100 colleges and universities. Imagining America's central aim is to engage people in the work of democratizing civic culture in the United States and beyond. They place their primary focus on the transformational task of democratizing the culture of higher education institutions through scholars and practitioners who draw on the arts, humanities, and design in their work. It's vision is that publicly engaged artists, designers, scholars, and other community members working with institutions of higher education to enrich civic life for all.

Imagining America advances knowledge and creativity through publicly engaged scholarship--scholarship defined by partnerships of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, creative activity, and public knowledge; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address and help solve critical social problems; and contribute to the public good--that draws on humanities, arts, and design. Imagining America catalyzes change in campus practices, structures, and policies that enables publicly engaged artists and scholars to thrive and contribute to community action and revitalization.

This work is based on these values:

  • Collaboration, participation, dialogue, and transparency
  • Creativity and innovation in developing and mobilizing knowledge with communities
  • Cultural diversity, inclusion, and social equity
  • Reciprocity in campus-community partnerships, research and creative activity, teaching and learning, and assessment

Wagner College collaborated with Kevin Bott, then associate director of Imagining America, currently Wagner's Dean for Civic Engagement, to create a community theater project. In collaboration with more than two dozen Port Richmond residents, including members of Eye-Openers Youth Against Violence and a small group of Wagner College students, Bott conducted a series of workshops that focused on identifying and reducing racial tensions in Port Richmond. Participants not only had a chance to voice their experiences through these workshops, but they also were able to deepen relationships with their neighbors.

This project culminated with a theatrical presentation to an enthusiastic Friendship Dinner audience of more than 100 people at Port Richmond’s St. Phillip’s Baptist Church in which spectators interrupted the action on stage to bring about more racially harmonious outcomes by becoming part of the performance. They offered alternative approaches to uncomfortable, yet very real, situations. The interaction between the actors and the audience helped to make the performance not only interactive but transformative as they offered other stories. Building on that successful event, similar community theater projects have been developed through involvement from community partners and Wagner College student and Port Richmond Scholar Kerri Alexander. The Office of University Partnerships in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently highlighted this work as part of Wagner College's larger Port Richmond Partnership efforts.