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Imagining America national consortium names Jan Cohen-Cruz director
Imagining America national consortium names Jan Cohen-Cruz directorJune 26, 2007Sara Millersemortim@syr.edu
Imagining America (IA), a national consortium of more than 80 colleges and universities whose mission is to strengthen the public role and democratic purposes of the humanities, arts and design, has appointed Jan Cohen-Cruz as director. Cohen-Cruz’s appointment becomes effective July 1, when she will begin to direct the consortium based at Syracuse University and also serve as University Professor.
Cohen-Cruz will personally meet consortium members and representatives at IA’s seventh national conference Sept. 7-8 at SU. The theme of the conference, “Citizenship for a Just World: Activating Knowledge, Cultivating Engagement,” addresses the challenges of a globalizing environment when public scholarship increasingly means engagement with regional and national communities.
IA was founded in 1999 as a partner program of the White House Millennium Council. In fall 2006, SU was selected as the new host campus for IA effective July 1, 2007, bringing the consortium from its founding institution, the University of Michigan, to Central New York for a term that extends to 2012. IA members include large and small, public and private liberal arts and research institutions, as well as historically black colleges and universities, including Pennsylvania State University, Bates College, California Institute of the Arts, North Carolina State at Fayetteville and Stanford University.
Cohen-Cruz comes to IA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she served as a professor in the drama department. She held a joint appointment in the Tisch School’s Department of Art and Public Policy, which she co-founded with several colleagues at the school. She is the author of “Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the United States” (Rutgers University Press, 2005), in which she presents a survey of that field from its earliest roots to the present day. She also edited “Radical Street Performance” (Routledge, 1998) and, with Mady Schutzman, co-edited “Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy, Activism” (Routledge, 1994) and “A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Art and Cultural Politics” (Routledge, 2006). In the mid-1990s, Cohen-Cruz co-directed the Tisch School’s AmeriCorps, focusing on violence reduction through the arts. She has produced community-based projects with Tisch students in the Lower East Side, one focused on community gardens and another on gentrification. Cohen-Cruz also directed the Tisch School’s Office of Community Connections, through which Tisch School of the Arts students do community-based art internships. She was Scholar in Residence for the Bronx Museum’s two-year “Action Lab” from 2004-06, which was inspired by Augusto Boal.
This past semester, Cohen-Cruz was in New Orleans as a visiting professor at Xavier University of Louisiana, as part of HOME, New Orleans, a partnership of local artists and residents, NYU and local higher education faculty and students. They engaged with four neighborhoods, exploring ways to incorporate art into the rebuilding of community.
Cohen-Cruz received a bachelor’s degree from Bard College and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in performance studies from NYU. Since 2005, she has served IA as a consulting scholar and artists group member, as part of IA’s America Tenure Team Initiative.
As IA director, she will provide leadership for the growing consortium of institutions; enhance exchanges among member campuses and with local and regional community organizations; encourage intellectual and artistic experimentation around campus-community partnerships; and share products, best practices, analysis and assessment of those partnerships and their ramifications for an engaged model of higher education.
“Given my fervent belief in pedagogy and research that combine community-based projects with classroom reflection, reading and writing, I am thrilled to take on the directorship of Imagining America at Syracuse University,” Cohen-Cruz says. “Under Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s leadership, Syracuse University — with its commitment to Scholarship in Action — is poised to be an ideal local laboratory for the national movement, nurturing both undergraduate and graduate student civic engagement through the humanities, arts and design.
“The timing couldn’t be better, following my work with four universities, local artists and community partners in New Orleans committed to generating new knowledge about the role of the arts in rebuilding communities, providing students with experiences across differences, contributing to local neighborhoods in meaningful ways and exploring the democratic capacity of higher education to further participation in civic life.”
“Jan’s vision for the future of Imagining America and public scholarship in higher education will provide the consortium with outstanding leadership and strategic direction as membership and activity continue to grow nationally,” says SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor. “Syracuse is so excited to be the new home of Imagining America, and Jan will be an invaluable resource for IA member institutions that are looking to expand collaborative efforts in new ways with their communities, create new opportunities in creative scholarship, and mark sustainable developments in public engagement.”
Since its founding, IA has become the leading voice for the importance of public engagement in the arts and humanities, stressing the intellectual and civic importance of public scholarship and mobilizing educational leaders to develop publication and tenure practices that support the enterprise of public scholarship.
“The National Advisory Board of Imagining America and I personally could not be more excited that Jan Cohen-Cruz will be leading IA as we move to Syracuse University,” says David Scobey, chair of IA’s national advisory board. “Within the discipline of community-based theater studies, she is a nationally known scholar and practitioner. She is bold and visionary in her thinking about the public mission of the arts and humanities, and she brings to our work a wonderful mix of energy, intelligence, inclusiveness and community-building skill. As Imagining America charts the second chapter of our development, within the larger movement for public engagement in higher education, I feel lucky to have Jan at the helm.”
One of IA’s prominent initiatives is the Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) program, a crucial component of IA’s commitment to expanding the public role of humanists and artists who are based in higher education. Now in its fourth year, PAGE is establishing a national network of graduate students with a demonstrated commitment to public scholarship and community engagement. Through the PAGE Fellows program, which selects 15 graduate students annually from a competitive national pool, IA aims to become a unique resource for future faculty so that they may continue the national conversation about civic engagement efforts in higher education.
“In 2001, as Imagining America was just taking shape as a consortium, Jan Cohen-Cruz was one of the first people I turned to for insights about community-based undergraduate education in the arts, the national community arts movement and the power of performance as a medium for learning, scholarship and social change,” says Julie Ellison, IA’s founding director. “Jan is warm, wise, attuned to others and bold in foreseeing new pathways for publicly committed artists and educators. As its work grows and deepens, she is an ideal leader for IA now.”
IA offices will be housed on the first floor of the newly renovated Tolley Building on the SU campus, alongside SU’s new Center for the Public and Collaborative Humanities. A transition team spanning many SU academic and administrative areas has been preparing for the July 2007 transition.
Future consortium goals include to institutionalize norms of tenure, promotion, materials rewards and recognition that support public engagement in the arts and humanities, and to develop new genres, formats and forums of publication for such work.
“Jan brings a tremendous background of work in the arts at the interface between research universities and a broad range of American communities,” says Cathryn R. Newton, dean of SU’s College of Arts and Sciences and IA national board member. “We are overjoyed that she will join us at Syracuse to lead Imagining America.”
For more information on Imagining America, visit http://www.imaginingamerica.org.