The first article about the Art of Transformation project is published.
There is increasing chatter about collaboration all around and among us at the university. To collaborate is becoming an aspiration. So many of us want to reach out and work together, preferably on something meaningful, and the process itself is meaningful. At a time when national leaders struggle to work together to meet the public's critical challenges, it feels good to seriously engage one another—particularly across the boundaries that so often isolate and divide us. In this spirit we want to share a newly published article about a project the IRC has been deeply involved in, The Art of Transformation: Cultural Organizing by Reinventing Media. It appears in the current issue of PUBLIC, the journal of the Imagining America consortium. It is about the process and practice of university people and communities working toward engaging with one another in a way that is truly collaborative.
If you have not been made aware of, or been able to join the many UMBC faculty, students, staff and administration that have become involved with Imagining America (IA), this article should give you a feel for what it's all about. IA is: "Publicly engaged artists, designers, scholars, and community activists working toward the democratic transformation of higher education and civic life." A lofty goal to be sure, but as we hope the article conveys, it is one that is surprisingly and wonderfully possible.
Writing the article itself was a deeply collaborative effort. Six of us wrote it together. Lots of articles have co-authors and many readers will be familiar with the process of writing and publishing an article or edited volume following standard protocols. There is a lead author who pulls together the thoughts of co-authors into an article that is clear and written with the single voice. It is a practical and successful tradition. Nonetheless, it was not applicable for writing about Art of Transformation because the very foundation of the project is about not privileging one voice over another. So with no one of us put "in-charge" we worked together, each adding what we could, until the writing was done. Our names are listed alphabetically rather than in an order that would describe a hierarchy of responsibility and involvement. We had no idea how to write the article when we began—people had very different ideas about structure and content—but getting the pieces to work together didn't feel like a series of compromises. It felt natural. Each voice found its place. Though writing a 9,000 word article is always a major untaking, in retrospect, this was probably no harder, and took no longer, than it normally is. We only had to rewrite the whole thing once!
The article begins in a time beginning shortly after UMBC hosted the Imagining America conference in 2015. Conference organizers, which included UMBC and nearly fifty other organizations and institutions in Baltimore, pledged to stay organized—to keep meeting, at least long enough to launch some kind of continued collaboration. That collaboration became the Art of Transformation project. The article chronicles the first phase of the project, in which UMBC participants worked with four Baltimore communities and organizations including CultureWorks, WombWork Productions, and Chesapeake Center for the Arts, and with those involved in other UMBC projects such as Baltimore Traces, and Mill Stories. In each community, we listened to people and documented their stories about living in their communities—what they'd seen in their lifetimes, what it means to them, and what they imagine for the future. We captured and those stories in films and visualizations that will be organized and put into a new kind of public media during phase two of the project. The process of recording, editing, analyzing and compiling, then playing media back to those who have been recorded, definitely had ups, downs and bumps along the road. Given the often-troubled relationship between researchers and community residents, or as it's often phrased, "town and gown," pursuing the project in a way that upheld the spirit of collaboration was, like writing the article, challenging but possible and is paving the way for more possibilities going forward. We are encouraged, and together with our community partners, anxious to go much further along this path.
Both the article and the project it describes are things we at the IRC are proud to be involved with. The project is a great match for us because it combines reinventing media and rethinking and reworking the practices we use to create the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and how we tell them. This is what IRC work is all about. Please check it out, and have a look around the rest of the issue once you do. In alphabetical order, the article's authors are: Frank Anderson, Doctoral Student, Language, Literacy and Culture and Assistant Director, Choice Program, UMBC; Beverly Bickel, Clinical Associate Professor, Language, Literacy and Culture, UMBC; Lee Boot, Director, Imaging Research Center, UMBC; Sherella Cupid, Doctoral Student, Language, Literacy and Culture, UMBC; Denise Griffin Johnson, Cultural Organizer, Culture Works & USDAC: Christopher Kojzar, Graduate Student, Intermedia and Digital Arts, UMBC.