WKU, Southern Cal launch civic imagination incubator


Makaio Smith, Staff Writer

WKU’s Potter College of Arts and Letters and the Innovation Campus are working with the University of Southern California to launch a new civic imagination incubator at the collaborative smart space on the Innovation Campus. 

This incubator is a eight-month pilot program designed to promote social change and civic agency through connection and collaboration, said Terrance Brown, the PCAL dean.  WKU’s Innovation Campus, at Nashville Road and Campbell Lane, has a new 30,000 square-foot collaborative smart space to host meetings and provide work space throughout the program.

“Since this is a pilot program, we thought this time frame would provide enough length to have more fruitful conversations,” Brown said. “In addition, the time frame aligned well with both universities’ academic calendars.”

By allowing “creatives,” or people who are working professionally as storytellers and content creators, to develop impactful story worlds and media projects, creatives are able to focus on world-building, storytelling, and civic imagination.

 “It is aimed at accepting five-six professional media creators working in this region of the country to go through this eight-month program as they further develop their approach to the stories they tell,” said Sangita Shresthova, director of research at the Civic Paths Group at USC, “whether that be books, films, podcasts, games, audio stories, comics, XR (extended reality), animation or any other format.”

There will be a cohort of five to six creatives selected from nominations this summer.

According to an announcement made on May 18 by Potter College: “During the span of the program, five creatives will move through the collaborative process of ideating, planning, prototyping, devising participatory strategies, and exploring funding possibilities for their projects through monthly meetings and sessions with creative guests and advisors.”

The Civic Imagination Project at USC has been researching the concept of civic imagination for years and conducting workshops, said Sam Ford, a PCAL alumnus and executive director of AccelerateKY, a non-profit organization that helped get the pilot program off the ground.

AccelerateKY’s relationship with civic imagination started with a workshop that happened in 2017.

“We did one with USC in 2017 that the Innovation Campus and Potter College hosted that was called ‘Imagine Kentucky In 2040’,” Ford said. “That was bringing civic imagination to a group of people, who care about the future of Kentucky, coming together to think about what they want Kentucky to look like in 2040 and how we get there.”

The conversation about collaboration to bring this to WKU began in 2021 with Ford and  Brown.

From there, Ford brought in Shresthova and Henry Jenkins, who are from USC, to help with the collaboration. The conversation lasted eight to nine months before implementation, Brown said in an email.


The project will be composed of individuals from various diverse backgrounds, including current students, WKU/PCAL alums and individuals from the region.

“In the end, I hope individuals will develop concepts and actionable plans that tackle prevalent and non-prevalent boundaries that appear when forming the community of tomorrow,” Brown said in an email. “The combination of individuals from all walks of life to formulate proactive thoughts about how to build a more inclusive and engaging society.”

The incubator will be offered virtually through Zoom and in person for a kick-off event and conclusion. It is open to students, WKU alumni and community members. The kick-off event for the Civic Imagination Incubator will be held in September.

“The incubator is not a class; however, it is a program that will have some public-facing sessions that students can attend,” Shresthova said. “They will be able to connect their work to the topics and approaches covered and see the work of the creative professionals who are going through the incubator.”

The goals for the incubator are:

  • To support the affiliated creative media makers.
  • To make civic imagination accessible to media makers interested in applying it to their work.
  • To establish a program that is rooted in place, which is why they chose this region for the incubator.

“We will introduce them to civic imagination tools and approaches so they can apply these to their work. We also hope that participation in the incubator helps them realize their respective media projects,” Shresthova said. “I am excited about the partnership among the Civic Imagination Project, WKU Potter College and WKU Innovation Campus that is making this happen.”  


Makaio Smith can be reached at [email protected].