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Living an Engaged Imaginative Life

If a genie rose in a stream of twisted blue smoke and offered me, free of charge, an all expenses paid research study of my dreams, I would know immediately what to say. It would be a longitudinal study of three groups of young people in ordinary neighborhoods: those who become engaged with the arts, those who engage with science and technology, and others who are not particularly engaged. My army of co-researchers and I would track how these activities affect every aspect of these individuals’ lives. We would harness the growing powers of social media, asking young people to text us whenever they were engaged in their art form. A programmer of stunning insight and ability would work side by side with a gifted graphic designer to produce displays that showed a day, a month, or year in their lives. We would have the equivalent of topographical maps of what their artistic projects connected them to: real places, people, websites, books, movies, and performances. We would have the equivalent of MRIs of their imaginations. After early adulthood, we would visit them at regular intervals (like Michael Apted’s documentary Seven Up). We could look at their work, leisure, civic engagement, volunteering, and what they passed on to children or the people they mentored. In the end, we would have one way to answer, for one time and place, to two questions that preoccupy me: “What differences does living an engaged imaginative life make?” and “What differences does engagement in the arts make to the way we live our lives?”

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2 Responses to Living an Engaged Imaginative Life

  1. Melissa says:

    A great idea. Unfortunately, the dream seems not to be the ability to carry out a longitudinal study but rather three groups of young people in an ordinary neighborhood totally engaged with either the arts or science and technology. I live in an urban middle class neighborhood and the kids I see each day are not particularly engaged. Perhaps they have the interest but the reality is that engaging science or art programs are hard to find unless you have the means to pay for expensive programs, camps, tutors, or classes. Schools don’t provide these activities in any depth and there are no longer neighborhood programs that immerse young people in the arts or sciences. My son can go to a wonderful science camp at a local university – for $5000. Science might affect every aspect of his life . . . if he could afford it.

  2. Dennie Wolf says:

    Melissa is right — my dream research presumes a world in which large numbers of young people whose families have modest or lower incomes had access to developing their imaginative lives – in school, after school and out of school. It is a dream that re-imagines a neighborhood, and the surrounding city, as a campus, 24 x 7 (or nearly) and year round. Such places are rare, if they exist at all. As a nation, I am coming to think that we prefer to invest in enforced curfews or post-hoc funding of juvenile justice, than funding the kinds of activities that build skills and motivation and the learning to use free time for pursuing a passion. Melissa is right: an engaged imagination is becoming a luxury good.

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