‘Imagine’ that: Program encourages creativity to build better future

As guests made their way down the stairs to the common room of Haskell University’s Stidham Union, they found themselves transported 20 years into the future.

About 60 people made that journey Sunday afternoon during the “Imagining,” a program intended to provoke thought about how arts, culture and creativity can be used to improve communities.

The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, a movement dedicated to “cultivating equity, empathy and social change through creative, cultural action,” is hosting similar events across the country this summer.

“The idea, really, is to put arts and culture back at the center of our lives,” said Dave Loewenstein, an artist and “cultural agent” of the Lawrence initiative. “And the only way to do that is bringing people together.”

During Lawrence’s “Imagining,” participants were asked to form groups and discuss how the integration of art into everyday life could build a better Lawrence by the year 2034.

At one corner table, Kate Dinneen helped her eight-member team summarize their findings. A strengthened urban core, environmentally friendly transportation and a “more holistic” approach to education were among the concepts thrown around during their hour-long brainstorming session.

“In the year 2034, there is compassion and there is respect,” Dinneen said. “That kind of takes care of everything.”

Throughout the activity, Loewenstein stopped by tables to listen in on discussions, and he liked what he heard.

The excitement and determination shown by participants to “create that world” of tomorrow was the “most heartwarming” aspect of the event, Loewenstein said.

He and other organizers are scheduling another meeting next month to iron out the details of the groups’ plans.

“We’re hoping to create new relationships and new networks within our own community but also nationwide,” Loewenstein said. “What comes of it is up to us.”

Later, the groups presented their ideas to the larger audience before putting them in the time capsule, a bulbous purple-and-yellow container at the center of the room.

Maya Weil delivered her team’s report, which described Lawrence as a utopian “food forest” where citizens leave their cars parked outside the city. Weather brings food, she said, food brings celebration and celebration brings art.

“I just believe in art and culture as being the fuel for life and all things,” Weil said beforehand, her 2-year-old son Cedar resting on her lap. “There’s a lot of meaning to that.”