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On September 15, 2022, the  Civic Imagination Project at the University of Southern California launched the Civic Imagination Incubator pilot. The first iteration of this Incubator will have a regional, place-based focus, in partnership with Western Kentucky University's Potter College of Arts & Letters, and the Innovation Campus at WKU. This partnership was facilitated by the Bowling Green, Kentucky, based nonprofit AccelerateKY.


The Civic Imagination Incubator is a largely virtual program that combines worldbuilding, storytelling, and the civic imagination to help creatives develop impactful story worlds and media projects that engage participatory practices. The initial term of the incubator for a cohort will span 8 months, during which time 6 selected creatives (folks) 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 mentors. The process will tap civic imagination and worldbuilding methodologies, as well as ‘by any media necessary’ approaches to creating media and support folks on their creative journeys.

The real world is full of challenges, and the sheer weight of problems facing all of us can stifle the genius of our human creativity at exactly the time when we desperately need radical and innovative solutions. Utopias and dystopias have long been used to pose questions, provoke discussions, and inspire next steps, helpful because they break contemporary frames and encourage long-view perspectives. Tapping into examples and models from around the world where shared storyworlds are being deployed in service of social impact, the Incubator will helps folks reflect on their work through emerging models of civic imagination and world-building for social impact.

Meet the Folks

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Kami Ahrens

Kami Ahrens joined the Foxfire Museum in 2017. As Curator & Director of Education, she curates artifacts, develops exhibits, and manages educational programming. She produces Foxfire’s monthly podcast, “It Still Lives,” which uses oral histories from the museum’s archive to examine topics in Appalachian studies. Kami also serves as editor for the Foxfire Magazine and oversees the organization’s hallmark leadership program for local high school students. Kami received a bachelor’s degree in history from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, followed by a master’s degree in historical archaeology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she participated in several digital humanities projects. Kami has represented Foxfire on NPR’s “The Splendid Table” and in articles for the New York Times and Garden & Gun magazine. She edited Foxfire’s newest volume, The Foxfire Book of Appalachia Women: Stories of Landscape and Community in the Mountain South (UNC Press), which will be released March 2023.

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Ryan Dearbone

Ryan Dearbone currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University. Prior to that, Ryan has worked in several different fields throughout his career. Ryan spent several years as a multimedia journalist in Kentucky and Tennessee. There, he was twice recognized by the Kentucky Associated Press for his work. He has also spent time working as the Assistant Director of Community Education, a non-profit, and in the Department of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement at Western Kentucky University. Although Ryan is no longer a full-time reporter, he still works as a freelance journalist and part-time videographer for his own company, 823 Enterprises. He is also very engaged in his community of Bowling Green as the President of the local NAACP, as well as sitting on several other boards and committees.

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Justin Hall

Justin Hall was born in Pikeville, Ky., to a family where his father was an artist and his parents had a bluegrass band. After graduating from the University of Pikeville, Hall pursued a career in web design and development. His work for the Appalachian web and app development company Bit Source landed Hall on Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. Today, Hall is Director of Adult Programs for Awesome, Inc., in Lexington, Kentucky, where he manages a Web Developer Bootcamp, among other programs. Hall is also involved in a range of other entrepreneurial endeavors. He is also working on the launch of Dark Holler Comics, a company looking to tell stories through digital publishing set in Appalachia that will inspire, educate, and elevate readers.

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Evelyn Pollard-Gregory

Evelyn Pollard-Gregory is a Cinematography and Video Production educator in Louisville, KY.  She earned her undergraduate film degree at the historical Alabama A & M University and is currently completing a masters program at Full Sail University.  As a director and editor, Evelyn’s experiences have allowed her to work with storytellers for the PBS American Portrait project, City of Canton, and others. Her passion for screenwriting led her to create scripts for State Educational Departments and other non-profits.  Her most recent experiences ignited her passion for creating film, and Evelyn is currently in production on her first feature documentary that has multiple IP’s attached.  She focuses on telling diverse stories through multiple media platforms to reach a gamut of audiences, connecting generations.

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Clint Waters

Clinton W. Waters was born and raised in Bowling Green, KY. They are a graduate of Western Kentucky University with a bachelor's degree in Creative Writing and the co-founder/lead writer for Sundog Comics.  Waters writes science fiction and fantasy stories, focusing on LGBTQIA+ themes and representation within fictional worlds, and has self-published six books to date. Their major creative inspirations are "The Twilight Zone", "Black Mirror", and the works of Ray Bradbury.  Through events and personal interactions, Waters hopes to foster creativity and acceptance for anyone with the desire to write.

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Madison Whittle

Madison Whittle is a senior at Western Kentucky University studying User Experience, Graphic Design, and Computer Animation. She is one of the first students to declare the User Experience BFA at WKU and continues to explore avenues in which she can utilize UX strategy and design outside of her program. Two of these avenues include her involvement in Imagewest and at the WKU Extended Reality (XR) Research Lab. Imagewest is an award-winning, student-based advertising agency located on Western’s campus in which Madison has served as assistant manager for the past 3 semesters. Here, she is responsible for overseeing account executives and designing websites for local clients. In the XR lab, she uses UX principles to create foundational research and strategy for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality systems. Additionally, she has produced the lab’s branding, social/digital media, website, and printed materials.  Madison’s most recent project took her to the United Kingdom, where she tracked user engagement in London’s top museums. In order to gather this information, she and two colleagues developed a mobile app called Muser that awards badges based on the duration and location of the user(s). This semester, she and her professor intend on conducting user testing on a larger group of students in St. Louis.  

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