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Michaela Angela Davis and Carl Hancock Rux in conversation at the NYC premiere screening of finding the 51st (dream) state. Photo by Vaughn David Browne.^46 Richie Harper leading a community sing at Harlem Stage at Aaron Davis Hall^46 Sekou at work at the Arab American National Museum with Detroit poets and staff during a semester long residency at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor ^46 Discussion at a Community Sing at Harlem Stage at Aaron Davis Hall^46

The America Project

The America Project was conceived in 2001 by artist Sekou Sundiata (1948-2007) as a shared contemplation of America's national identity, its power in the world, and its guiding mythologies, with two main components:

  • public engagement activities designed to involve campuses and communities, artists, scholars and activists nationwide in critical thinking about issues of citizenship; and
  • creation and performance of the 51st (dream) state, a multimedia music-theater work inspired by that thinking and exploration.

Sundiata's methodology brought divrese people into a shared civic process and artistically incorporated many voices into one stirring performance work. He led and participated in numerous poetry circles, community sings, "citizenship cabarets," poetry readings, interviews, potluck dinners, panels and forums designed to spark ideas on critical citizenship, creativity and civic dialogue. Elements of these public interactions fed directly into the creation of the poems and songs that comprised his final theater work, the 51st (dream) state, which premiered in 2006 and toured internationally.

Following Sundiata's unexpected death in July 2007, many America Project participants spoke with MAPP about the profound impact of his work, and their desire to keep his methodology alive. Located in various parts of the U.S., many of these people did not know each other, nor were they aware of the common experience they had shared. As producers of The America Project and the 51st (dream) state, MAPP saw and appreciated the full range and scope of Sundiata's legacy. With the agreement and partnership of Maurine Knighton (Sundiata's partner and Executor of his estate), MAPP reinitiated The America Project in 2008 as a national program built on his vision.

With initial advice from The America Project Working Group (a convening of arts, education and community workers who had collaborated with Sundiata), and with support from Nathan Cummings Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Lambent Foundation, MAPP first completed and distributed project components originally planned by Sundiata, including the documentary film, finding the 51st (dream) state, and the curriculum guide, A Teaching Method for Collaboration, Creativity and Citizenship. We expanded the program with new components, such as Artist-led Community Projects, The People's Potlucks, and The America Project Commission. As a result, The America Project is now deeply rooted at MAPP as an integral part of our efforts to devise innovative ways to connect artists with people in diverse communities, and to build awareness of artists as thought leaders in our society.