Dr. Erica Kohl-Arenas


It is my privilege to lift the urgent call of Imagining America, a fierce national network of artists and scholars dreaming up and enacting a more just and liberatory world. Simultaneously, my scholarship asks us to recognize how liberation movements navigate co-optation and the everyday violence of bureaucracy and philanthropy.


Dr. Erica Kohl-Arenas is an Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis and the National Director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life. She is a scholar of grassroots community development and the radical imaginations and deferred dreams of social movements that become entangled with the politics of professionalization, institutionalization, and philanthropy.

Kohl-Arenas is the author of the award-winning book The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty and is currently working on a book about intergenerational freedom fighters from the 1960s and today. She is the co-organizer of two action research projects, including one on transforming higher education to better support activist and public scholarship, and another on the reclamation of land and agriculture in building self-determined futures in rural Black Mississippi as an ally to the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production.