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WORKSHOP

Participants in the program development workshop for “Writing Democracy: Towards a Translocal Consortium for Access, Preservation, and Exchange of Community-Based Discourses” will review the wide range of project artifacts, publications, and processes presented at the forum and take up the key question of how such projects and their tangible and intangible outcomes might be enhanced, sustained, intellectually deepened, and disseminated by a national consortium. Too often, the tangible materials produced by local community-based efforts are ephemeral “dead letters” that fail to reach their recipients. Likewise, the intangible achievements of community-building, improved intercultural communication, increased civility, and making rhetorical space for democratic speech can be lost in the flux of everyday life and local projects that lack the structures of more established institutions. The primary goals of the workshop will be 1) to reflect on what the forum presentations tell us about the myriad ways in which rhetorical recovery, intercultural inquiry, oral history, and other research methods serve to bridge cultures; 2) to discuss how the forum proceedings can best be utilized to promote genuinely civil relations in our deeply divided society to engender democracy; and 3) to generate a model for a public program and to outline the post-workshop steps to be taken.

See Draft Agenda above.

Humanities Team
We anticipate there will forty participants, including key practitioners and theorists of geographically and institutionally diverse community-based writing projects, local community organizers, historians, oral historians, librarians, and representatives of cultural institutions. Of particular note, historian Jerrold Hirsch, an authority on the Federal Writers’ Project, has warmly accepted our invitation and embraced out vision. He writes:

I think my work on the FWP could provide a valuable perspective on your proposed undertaking. In addition, I would not only learn a lot about writing democracy today, but also be contributing to something in which I and the leaders of the FWP deeply believed. I wrote Portrait of America: A Cultural History of the Federal Writers' Project not just to lay out this New Deal agency's history, but also with the hope of promoting discussion of the issues the FWP raised and contributing to new efforts to build on their legacy. Your proposal is the latest evidence that I have had some success in these goals. (Appendices, page 62).

The following key participants are highly qualified to contribute to the conference theme of “Writing Democracy” to bridge cultures and promote civility and democracy.

Each of the featured speakers listed in the forum section above has agreed to participate in the program and development workshop, contributing to working groups on themes suggested during monthly and virtual planning meetings leading up to workshop and revised in response to recurring themes emerging from the forum. They will be joined by members of members of the Humanities Team representing cultural programs, community colleges, journalism, public schools, libraries, art, photography, and creative writing.

Partnering Organizations
•    Commerce Office of Cultural Affairs (COCA) is a grassroots organization designed to help facilitate communication between community residents and A&M-University-Commerce. (see “Odom, Appendices, page 116).
•    Community Literacy Journal (CLJ) is a referred journal that publishes both scholarly work in the field and work by community literacy workers in the field (see Moore, Appendices, page 101).
•    Coastal Bend Writing Project (CBWP) is the newest National Writing Project (NWP) site in Texas, established at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in 2009. Funded in part by a grant from the US Department of Education and extending to 209 local sites across the nation, NWP (established 1974)
embodies the translocal. As they explain in their vision statement, “Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century” (see Quick, Appendices, page 112).
•    Federation Rhetoric Committee, Federation of North Texas Area Colleges and Universities (FRC) brings together PhD programs and resources from three area universities (A&M-Commerce, Texas Woman’s University, University of North Texas) to advance the discipline of Rhetoric, especially through its annual Federation Rhetoric Symposium (established 1973) (see Souris, Appendices, page 160).

Team Members
Vaughn Wascovich (A&M-Commerce) extends our understanding of local publics and strategic planning and public humanities through his work as an artist and local programming like the Commerce Community Garden Association. Wascovich is a photographer and community organizer with direct connections to the workshop theme and community-building potential.  He serves on the Advisory Board for the Converging Literacies Center and regularly collaborates with team members Mike Odom, Susan Stewart, and Shannon Carter.

Mike Odom (Commerce Office of Cultural Affairs) sees local publics from the perspective of city governance and the complexities embedded in enacting public humanities projects from the ground up. Odom is an artist, art critic, and community organizer who created the Commerce Office of Cultural Affairs (COCA) to help facilitate communication between community residents and A&M-University-Commerce through cultural projects like his “Art in the Windows” series and the Commerce Community Garden Association, which he established in collaboration with Wascovich. He collaborates with Susan Stewart and Shannon Carter on a variety of university- and community-based projects.

Jim Conrad (Archivist, A&M-Commerce) has led one of the most significant oral history programs in the state, collecting over 1,000 oral histories in his 37 years as Director of our University Archives. His work as archivist in rural Northeast Texas and a social historian (PhD, OSU) often places him in positions that engage local publics in cultural and historical projects. To attend to the translocal requires participants to put local issues in global contexts (and the global in local contexts), thus Conrad’s work has many disciplinary implications—especially in terms research and preservation methods. He has collaborated extensively with Shannon Carter, especially in collecting and co-presenting on local African American history relevant to her recent book project and the HeirLoom Project, for which he serves as Principal Investigator.

Greg Mitchell (Director, A&M- Commerce Gee Librarians) has extensive experience in Information Technology Systems and civic engagement. He serves on the Advisory Board for the Converging Literacies Center (CLiC) and has presented with Shannon Carter at national and regional conferences on issues surrounding civic engagement and information access.

Ingrid Wang (Associate Professor, LIU-Brooklyn Library) is Coordinator of Technology and Information Services. She has extensive Information Technology and Library expertise and has been instrumental in developing electronic access systems at the Brooklyn Campus Library. She has written about the “Global Library” in light of providing resources and services to international sites, including work with LIU’s Global College India and South Africa Centers. Her expertise in technology and library services positions her to play an important role in developing capacities at the LIU-Brooklyn Library and Brooklyn Public Libraries for preservation and dissemination of and access to university-community artifacts and publications. Wang collaborates with Deborah Mutnick on a variety of Brooklyn-based projects.

Jerrod Knight (Station Manager, KETR) speaks to the issue of local publics from the perspective of local broadcast journalism. Manager for a campus-based, NPR-affiliated station, Knight will work with student journalists and others to create a series of radio programs (called “Talking Democracy”) informing and informed by the forum theme. Knight’s contributions might suggest important questions like—What does local journalism look like in a participatory democracy? How might radio programming further engage local publics in local issues with translocal implications?  “Talking Democracy” builds on emerging partnerships with the Converging Literacies Center (CLiC) through Director Shannon Carter.
 
Tony DeMars (Director, KETR-3) is Associate Professor of Mass Communications and will work with student journalists to create a television program to further extend the Writing Democracy theme and complement the radio program by the same name. The program will build on emerging partnerships with CLiC and Gee Library (“Talking Democracy”).

John Mark Dempsey (Chair, Department of Mass Communications) is Associate Professor of Mass Communications and works closely with DeMars (KETR-3) and Knight (KETR) to support and inspire successful programming through projects like “Talking Democracy” and the contributions made during the March 2011 forum and workshop.

Robert Muilenburg (Del Mar College), current President of the Community College Journalism and Vice President of the Texas Community College Journalism Association, contributes to the conversation a perspective on community news as informed by what Nedra Reynolds calls the “geographies of writing.” Long-time advisor for the campus newspaper at a Hispanic Serving Institution in South Texas, Muilenburg’s recent research examines how young Latinos, who have been raised in predominately Hispanic regions of the country, see the role their culture and heritage play when covering community news. His newspaper recently partnered with the El Paso-based Borderzine project. As he explains, “Borderzine, journalism across fronteras, is a web community for Latino student journalists” (Appendices, page 137). Shannon Carter has worked with Muilenburg on other projects over the years, and he has direct connections to the hosting institution as former photography student in the Art Department.

Foster Dickson (Creative Writing Teacher, Booker T. Washington Magnet School) offers extensive experience as a writer and writing teacher engaging local publics in place-based writing about civility and democracy. As founder and editor of the student journal Writing Our Hope, Dickson provides a forum for our nation’s youth to publish creative nonfiction on issues surrounding equity and tolerance. Editor of the forthcoming Memoirs of Integration and After and the recent Treasuring Alabama’s Black Belt: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Teaching Place (2009), Dickson offers a model for translocal initiatives embedded in more contemporary race relations across the deep south. His longtime association with the progressive publication house NewSouth Press extends those contributions still further. Dickson has presented with Carter at recent national conferences and collaborated with her through projects like the National Conversation on Writing.

Bob Brinkman (Texas Historical Commission) offers valuable insight as a public historian with almost ten years experience leading the cultural preservation of Texas through the Texas Historical Commission. Brinkman has written extensively about Texas courthouses, cemeteries, minority populations, and German populations—especially those places and communities in Austin and surrounding areas. He has helped establish more than 200 Texas Historical Markers, and currently serves as Coordinator of the Texas Historical Markers (THC) program. Brinkman has collaborated extensively with A&M-Commerce historian and archivist Jim Conrad and, most recently, worked with Shannon Carter and CLiC to help establish a THC at the oldest African American church in Commerce, Texas.

Robin Reid (Professor of English, A&M-Commerce) brings to the discussion a critical perspective on civility and democracy as it plays itself out in the blogosphere and related online communities. Two-time recipient of NEH grants, current chair of A&M-Commerce’s Institutional Review Board, and regular collaborator on issues associated with social justice and new media, Reid will continue to work closely with Co-PIs throughout the current project—just as she has in many previous projects.

Deborah Schwartz (President, Brooklyn Historical Society) brings extensive experience in cultural and arts direction, having served as President of the Brooklyn Historical Society since 2006, Deputy Director for Education at The Museum of Modern Art (2002-2006) and Vice Director of Education and Program Development and the Brooklyn Museum of Art (June 1989-February 2000). As President of the Brooklyn Historical Society, she has continued the Society’s traditional focus on preserving Brooklyn history. At the same time, she has introduced new community-based programs engaging local publics through oral histories and the production of neighborhood guides as well as regular exhibits of community projects documenting both the history of the borough and its present realities. Schwartz and Mutnick are regular collaborators on a range of projects bringing the university and the community together.

Workshop Process
The content of the forum will be used 1) to generate a model for a public program or programs; and 2) to discuss the creation of a national consortium, Institute for a Federal Writers Project for the 21st Century, that would link existing university-community projects to provide access, preservation, and exchange of community-based writing and writers. Following a brief welcome and introductions, the workshop will commence with an address by Imagining America Director, Jan Cohen-Cruz, tentatively titled “Lessons from Imagining America.” Professor Cohen-Cruz will provide an overview of the history and mission of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life. Highly relevant to the goals of Writing Democracy, IA is a consortium of colleges and universities that supports public scholarship and practice. Its mission is to strengthen the public role and democratic purposes of the humanities, arts, and design.

Following Cohen-Cruz’s address, the Co-PIs will present to participants the Writing Democracy proposal for public programs and the Institute for a Federal Writers Project for the 21st Century. The three proposed public programs aim to reach a large, diverse audience through 1) the creation of a website and partnership with existing Digital Collections (see A&M-Commerce Library as model) that would provide a digital showcase for the local projects capable of reaching a national audience and beyond with the capacity eventually to form the basis of a digital home for the Institute; 2) the production of a one-half hour radio program about the forum, the local initiatives, and the theme of civility and democracy, tentatively titled: “Writing Democracy: A New Federal Writers’ Project for the 21st Century”; and 3) the development of a webinar for college and high school faculty for which the proceedings would the basis for a multimedia narrative about the local projects, outlining key theoretical, rhetorical, and organizing principles for school-community projects. Each program will serve at least two purposes: 1) to acquaint listeners/viewers with the artifacts, publications, and ethos of specific local projects; and 2) to provide a model for developing similar community-based projects as described below. The morning will conclude by convening Working Group meetings, each of which will consider one of the three program proposals as well as any additional ideas participants wish to be considered.

An hour-long lunch break will also feature digital, multi-modal, and print projects, exemplifying the kinds of artifacts and publications the Co-PIs see as models for project development. After lunch, the facilitators of the model will present the context and history of their work, foregrounding the central, pivotal role of the local initiatives as the basis for developing similar projects that collectively can help foster civility and stem the tide of uncivil rhetoric and violent discourses that obstruct democracy. At this point, the Working Groups will present their conclusions on options for public programs and Workshop participants will discuss the overarching theme of a 21st century Federal Writers’ Project. Finally, the Working Groups will reconvene to develop action plans to be followed by review, revision, and concluding reflections. FWP Historian Jerrold Hirsch will be asked to make brief closing remarks on the parallels between the 1930s and the current moment, summing up the forum theme of civility and democracy with respect to the proposed models for public programs and the impact an Institute for a New Federal Writers’ Project for the 21st Century might have on American history and culture.

Central to the workshop discussion will be the following theoretical questions: How might a federation of local university-community projects contribute to (re)building a public sphere, a free press, intercultural inquiry, and enlightened discourse and debate to promote civility and sustain democracy? How might such a federation help us rediscover and redefine American identity in the 21st century? What fundamental aspects of our collective identity have changed in the 75 years since the Federal Writers’ Project undertook to write the American Guide Series? What new voices have emerged? Which voices have been silenced? How have shifts in the global balance of power, deindustrialization, accelerated global urbanization, the ongoing worldwide economic crisis, climate change, and digital communications—to name just a few of the world’s transformations since the 1930s—affected our collective national identity? To what extent can local stories, made visible and organized by a national institute, contribute to expanding civic engagement and enacting democratic ideals?  How might the local projects and the national consortium foster mutual respect and understanding among the diverse groups that together weave the fabric of American life?

Preliminary Vision
We envision that the forum will generate three types of programs aimed at different audiences:  a webinar for college and high school faculty; a radio program for a general audience; and a website fed by library-based and supported Digital Collections that will feature the forum presentations. While ambitious, this goal is realizable because each program will have considerable overlapping content. The programs will report on specific local university-community projects, providing rich examples of the types of stories and research that have been produced in geographically and institutionally diverse locations. They will also highlight the overarching theme inspired by the Federal Writers’ Project of rediscovering and redefining American culture in the 21st century through the creation of a national consortium or institute.

Expected Tangible Results
Beyond the plan for the national programs, we envision the creation of a national consortium—Institute for a Federal Writers Project for the 21st Century—that will link local projects together; digitize, archive, and curate oral histories, audio recordings, publications and other forms of research and production; and provide greater resources, visibility, and access to the excellent work already being done on the local level. With or without federal funding, already existing college writing programs, service-learning initiatives, and community literacy projects, to name a few likely participants, provide a readymade basis for a consortium. All that is needed is an organizational structure and collective leadership to provide local projects with the greater reach and resources of the translocal initiative. Furthermore, our vision coincides with and, indeed, is inspired by other national projects whose mission is to enable all Americans to tell our stories, such as Dave Isay’s StoryCorps Project founded in 2003, NPR’s Radio Rookies, and the Center for Digital Storytelling founded by Joe Lambert in 1994 in Berkeley, California. We believe the time is ripe to expand the local focus of university-community projects into a translocal one capable of reviving the monumental task the federal writers of the 1930s set out to accomplish of writing a new American Guide Series—this time, for the 21st century.

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