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Civic Engagement and Social Practice

The Center's Civic Engagement and Social Practice work and director position held by Sam Smith was created within the Engagement Office in 2016 when Krannert Center reorganized the office, appointing Monique Rivera and Emily Laugesen as Co-Directors. The position was intended to capture the increasing social impact of Krannert Center’s engagement practice in local, national, and international contexts along the thematic lines that reflected the Center’s commitment to social justice. The position and work has been shaped by ideas and direction from Krannert Center’s core engagement team including Emily Laugesen, Monique Rivera, Sam Smith, and then-Director of Outreach and Engagement Crystal Womble, who retired in 2020.

In recent years, this work has been influenced deeply by theater artist and founder of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice Michael Rohd and his beautiful distinctions between artistic, social, and civic engagement-based practices. For Rohd,  “civic practice” essentially refers to projects that bring artists into collaboration and co-design with community partners and local residents around a community-defined aspiration, challenge, or vision. 

Theaster Gates, the preeminent Social Practice artist for Chicago Illinois, is also an aspirational influence. Theaster’s broad, expansive, and ambitious work in the Woodlawn community in Chicago, Illinois, and the underlying belief that “Beauty is a Right” bolsters the equity orientation of civic engagement and social practice at Krannert Center. This relationship- and project-focused work attempts to support individuals, organizations, and communities who may be culturally deserted and consciously extend the impact of Krannert Center—its expertise, resources, models, and practices into underserved and challenged communities and pressing current social concerns. The work survives through invitation and partnership with frontline activists, cultural workers campus units, and community organizations.

Areas of interest, focus, and work include community peace building.

The P.E.A.C.E. (Promoting Education Arts and Community Engagement) Project began several years ago to unite work happening in Sierra Leone with neighborhood and community work in Urbana. The P.E.A.C.E. Project focuses on peace making and community development that promotes safe vibrant communities, restorative justice practices, and reforms to the juvenile legal system. In June 2021, the project celebrated a 5-year milestone of work in the Urbana Vawter/Silverwood neighborhood. The Vawter/Silverwood Project is a peace and community building project that utilized the vast intellectual and creative resources of Krannert Center to convene, collaborate, catalyze and connect around community place

Grant-Funded Collaborations

Presidential Initiative: Expanding the Impact of the Arts and the Humanities 

  • Teresa Barnes, Maimouna Barro, Mary Gathogo, Erik McDuffie, Tekita Bankhead, and Sam Smith (UIUC)
  • Lynette Jackson and Kirk Hoppe (UIC)

The development of a joint Africana World studies project on the UIC and UIUC campuses will help break down long-standing academic silos of African studies and African-American studies. Through a three-semester sequence, the project is expected to lead students to new opportunities for language learning and community engagement, and it will impact the curriculum at both universities. The project leaders anticipate that the primary participants will be undergraduate students.

Diaspora and Border Racial Justice Youth Project A Call-to-Action Project from the Office of the Vice Chancellor designed to unite U.S. minoritized high school students and immigrant high school students in a study and exploration of commonalities of racialized histories of colonization and racism. Using storytelling and other forms of expression students will design and present work that captures their life stories and experiences. 

Arts-Focused Collaborations

Xtigone/Dramatic Reading In response to the shooting death of a Central High School student a collaboration with the Classic Department at Illinois, The Champaign Schools and Out of Chaos Theater, a planned dramatic reading of Xtigone, an adaptation of Antigone (Sophocles) by Chicago playwright Nambia Kelly. 
University of Illinois School of Literatures, Cultures, & Linguistics article 
WCIA News coverage
News-Gazette coverage

Seitu Jones Artist Engagement In collaboration with community partners, Seitu Jones studio, and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation - Humanities, Arts & Related Fields a series of projects and workshops including:

  • George’s Blues To link with his George A. Miller Visiting Artist experience and inspired by the work of George Washington Carver, Jones proposed collaborating with a crew of 5-10 young men and women and the Randolph Street Community Garden to color a set of t-shirts using natural dyes grown in the garden. George Washington Carver created over 300 paints, stains, and dyes using southern soils and plants. For example, red cabbage can be used to create a blue, much like the Egyptian Blue that George Washington Carver patented. Jones would work with Dawn Blackman, the Randolph Street Garden Steward and Shepherd, to plant a row of red cabbage that could be harvested, processed, and transformed into a blue dye. The crew would dye t-shirts, then using a cutter to create t-shirts for the next Juneteenth day celebration the Randolph Street Community Garden sponsors.
  • Sacred Sidewalk Signs and Symbols To share messages and symbols of love, Jones proposes collaborating with a crew of 5-10 young men and women to create a set of stencils to mark the sidewalks of Champaign-Urbana. Working first with the crew to create a set of designs and messages, Jones will scan, manipulate and load the images into a cutting machine. The crew will select themes that focus on life affirmations and will select the sites for the signs and symbols. The messages and symbols will then be cut out to create a set of stencils. We will use aerosol paints and a water resistant spray that will only be seen during rain. Our last task will be to create a map of the messages and symbols.

Music is a Healer: The Legacy of Oscar Braimah Sulley In collaboration with Cunningham Children’s Home, a project to study, preserve, and present the original compositions of musician, teacher, and composer Oscar Braimah Sulley.

Arts and Cultural Collective of Champaign County An initiative with nine local artists, arts organizations, and cultural workers to incorporate a local arts organization founded by and managed by people representing the global south majority.

African American Heritage Trail Project A community wide effort to design, develop, and steward a commemoration of African American History in Champaign County.

Additional Krannert Center Civic Engagement and Social Practice Related Board and Committee Work

  • University YMCA Art @ The Y
  • Champaign County Community Coalition, Community Violence Coordinating Committee
  • Community Violence Response Team