Imagining America Receives Phi Beta Kappa Key of Excellence

By Anne Tria Wise and Rhiana Quick

The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest and most-widely known academic honor society, presented Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life with the capstone Key of Excellence Award and its $10,000 prize at a reception on Thursday, October 1 during the 15th annual national Imagining America conference.

Phi Beta Kappa presented the award at the Baltimore Museum of Art during a ceremony with featured remarks from Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Imagining America’s Faculty Co-Directors Timothy Eatman and Scott Peters accepted the award in support of its work.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society created the Key of Excellence Awards to energize support for the arts and sciences because of their value to the nation. “The Key of Excellence showcases innovative programs that demonstrate the excellence, range, and relevance of the arts and sciences to their communities,” said Phi Beta Kappa President Katherine Soule. “We aim to show decision makers that the arts and sciences develop both inventive employees and thoughtful citizens. They are vital to a vibrant culture and democracy.”

Currently based at Syracuse University, Imagining America is a consortium of over 100 universities and community-based organizations dedicated to animating the civic purposes of the humanities, arts, and design through mutually beneficial community-campus partnerships. The selection committee chose Imagining America for this recognition because of its outstanding efforts to advance the civic purposes of American higher education. Major initiatives —such as Undergraduate Civic Professionalism, Engaged Scholars, Performing Our Future, Civic Science, the Tenure Team Initiative on Public Scholarship, and Public: A Journal of Imagining America —promote positive social change in communities while developing rigorous research that encourages and facilitates the role of civic engagement in liberal arts and sciences education.

“Imagining America brings artists, scholars, designers, community partners, and students together to link stories, fulfill the democratic purposes of higher education, and to address collectively the challenges and opportunities facing the nation,” said Phi Beta Kappa Secretary John Churchill. “We applaud Imagining America for its efforts to ensure that the teaching and research that takes place in classrooms and studios are relevant to, beneficial for, and reflective of its broader communities.”

“We are humbled and inspired by this esteemed award, and grateful for the opportunity it provides to recognize and honor the many bold leaders in our consortium—including our founder, Julie Ellison—who exemplify the power of publicly engaged scholarship in humanities, arts, and design fields. While this award is a capstone for Phi Beta Kappa’s Key of Excellence event series, we view it as a sign of things yet to come as our still young and growing consortium prepares to open a new chapter in its history,” said Eatman and Peters. Members of IA’s national board led by Bruce Burgett and Lisa Lee will also attend the ceremony.

Every fall, Imagining America’s national conference is a site of collaboration, active dialogue, and problem solving around major issues facing public scholarship and creative practice. This year’s Baltimore-based conference, hosted by UMBC, and co-hosted by MICA, and Morgan State University, centers on the theme “Let America Be! The Art and Power of ‘Weaving Our We.'” 

Previous recipients of the Key of Excellence Award are Arizona State University’s Project Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Wisconsin Science Festival, the Washington Consortium for the Liberal Arts, and the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement.

Anne Tria Wise is Director and Rhiana Quick is Associate Director of the National Arts & Sciences Initiative.