Public Works Year Three: Looking Back and Looking Forward

13 January 2020

By Kelly Connole and Susannah Ottaway, Public Works Co-Directors, Carleton College

As the Mellon-funded Public Works initiative progresses through the third of its four years at Carleton, we want to reflect on some of the most important insights we have gained, and to set out some of the goals that we hope to pursue as the grant continues. The initiative has sought to strengthen the quality, depth and frequency of publicly-engaged teaching and scholarship on campus, and we have also been working to better understand how to build more effective collaborations with community members, both in Northfield and far afield. Some of this work has been structural: working with the CCCE to design new Community Partnership Agreement forms, hosting Winter Break Workshops on best practices, and locating digitally based arts and humanities in the Carleton curriculum by way of a newly minted minor. Reflection, on the part of both faculty and students, is critical to the initiative and we’ve learned much from the reporting mechanisms required for every funded project throughout the past three years.

Other efforts of the initiative have been more about community and relationship building. We have been hosting conversations with Public Works grant recipients, so that we have a genuine sense of community among cohorts of faculty who are deeply interested in community engaged work, giving them a place to discuss their projects with other like-minded peers. We’ve had the luxury of funding projects created by faculty at all stages of their career, including visiting faculty, so Public Works has not been exclusive to any particular group. From the outset of the initiative, Carleton staff have been essential partners, and much of the success of Public Works stems from the steadfast commitment of our colleagues in the library, academic technology and the CCCE. We have all learned from each other and from our communities. We are also increasingly aware of all the work that we still need to do. We hope to better understand how publicly engaged work changes the climate of the campus, how faculty, staff and students can be more skilled and competent in engaging our community partners, and how reflective practices can get to the heart of the potential for deep insights that are embedded in public scholarship and academic civic engagement projects. We need to work to understand how positionality impacts what we do, and we need to be attentive to issues of equity and diversity. For the next year and a half, we will work towards an endpoint where we have expanded our collective understanding of the history and culture of the place we inhabit, including engagement with indigenous cultures.

The purpose of this blog is to create another space for reflection on the work that we do. We will be featuring a variety of voices, including faculty, staff, student participants, and community partners. Ultimately, we imagine this blog as a place for rich conversations on publicly-engaged arts and humanities that brings together the different people who make this work possible.