In order to change the world we live in we need to be able to imagine the world we desire. Through the Imagining Utopia workshop, CAA faculty work with groups – ranging from elementary school students to seasoned grassroots activists – to stimulate their imagination of what could be.
Beginning with presentations of dreams of the future from the past and diverse visions of Utopia, we then guide participants through a series of exercises designed to liberate and articulate our own visions of the future. We facilitate brainstorming sessions that encourage participants to critically reflect on where they are now and the problems that concern them. We then ask them to imagine solutions, not “practical” solutions but purposefully impractical ones. Unrestrained by time, money, expertise, and the laws of physics, participants dream impossible dreams, and in the process unlock their imaginations from the prison-house of the possible. Once they’ve imagined these Utopias, participants then sketch their visions, moving from idea to page. But we don’t just leave the participants in a dream world. We ask participants to make the impossible possible. As a group we work with these sketches and collectively figure out how we might make these dreams – or at least a part of these dreams – into reality. We call this process pragmatic utopianism.
The first Imagining Utopia workshop was held in the Winter of 2013 at the PS3 Charrette School, a public elementary school in New York City. Working with a class of 2nd and 3rd graders we imagined what their ideal school might look like. The result: visions of water slide stairwells, books that would run up and greet you at the library doors like household pets, characters that would pop out of stories and explain them to you, history texts that would allow you to travel back in time and translators that enabled students to interview the animals they were studying in biology. Utopian ideas, all of them. But from these phantasmagoria also came practical ideas about how to make lessons and books more accessible, and the architecture of a century old school building more kid-friendly. Since then we have done Imagining Utopia workshops with economic justice activists from Boston and an “Art and Social Change” delegation from Pakistan.
In our workshops we imagine Utopia, not as a destination but as a direction: a loadstone to orient our compass and guide us on our journeys.