Scores Gather for Imagination, Inquiry, and Innovation Institute


The College of New Rochelle welcomed dozens of educators, thinkers, and practitioners from a variety of fields on March 2, 2013, for its groundbreaking Imagination, Inquiry, & Innovation Institute.

The daylong series of workshops and presentations featured a range of disciplines, from creating art in hospice settings, to the use of physical movement to generate ideas, to taking advantage of "the cloud" and other online tools to increase student engagement.

"We thought it would be wonderful to have a thinking institute," said Ruth Zealand, associate professor of education and one of the organizers of the conference. "We wanted the variety of expertise and interest to really bloom here."

Zealand and her fellow organizers were clearly thrilled to open the event, which had been delayed by Hurricane Sandy. "It is proof positive that there is a hunger out there for this kind of conversation," said Holly Fairbank.

Patricia St. John, professor and director of the Art Therapy program at CNR, said the sequester -- drastic federal budget cuts -- also prove that "the world needs more imaginative and innovative thinkers and doers."

Anna Deavere Smith, a playwright and educator perhaps best-known for her TV roles on "Nurse Jackie" and "The West Wing," hammered home the idea of using innovation to help others in her keynote address.

She tells the story of getting lost while hiking a mountain in Colorado. Four hours in, she hears her first human sound -- it's a man huffing and puffing up the mountain behind her. She asks him for help. He says, "I'm on a timer, I can't talk," and shoots right past her.

"I tell that story because I worry that's where our country is going," she said. The gap between the haves and the have-nots, she says, is not just about money. "There's a huge division that has to do with what we would call excellence, aptitude, or abilities that come from certain experiences," she said. "Is this what it means to pursue excellence?"

Next, Deavere Smith reads from Edward P. Jones' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Known World," about a freed black man in antebellum Virginia who would go on to own slaves. It's clear she is an actor and a master storyteller, bringing the characters to life -- Henry Townsend, his bewildered mother and father, the former slave master who becomes his mentor, and more. "The moral of the story is that Henry, a black man, likes things. He wants things, and that want outweighs anything he was taught by remarkable people -- his parents."

"That kind of individual pursuit of things is something that we have to do some serious weighing about, if we're really trying to find a moral imagination or empathy," Deavere Smith said.

Conference participants were treated to a performance of "Sleeping Beauty," a rhymed-verse take on the classic fairy tale featuring the music of Bach, by David Gonzalez and Daniel Kelly. (Watch video of the performance here.)

The day ended with a reception at the Castle Gallery recognizing Maxine Greene and her contributions to aesthetic education and social change.

For a list of seminars and workshops, go to