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Launch of Looking for America: Detroit, part of a new dialogue and art initiative that is touring six dynamic U.S. cities

Hosted by the Detroit Historical Society and national partners, Looking for America: Detroit seeks to answer, “What does it mean to be American?”

What: Looking for America: Detroit, the first event in a new dialogue and art initiative that is touring six communities across the United States.  A dinner that features cross-political civil discourse will bring together approximately 50-75 participants, including local leaders and community members with different political identities. The attendees will view and interact with curated art exhibitions from local artists all centered around the question, “What does it mean to be American in Detroit?” Participants will share their reactions to the art and their perspectives and stories over a shared meal. 

Who: The event will feature remarks by:

  • Vicky Wilkins, Dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University 
  • Dan Wallace, Director of Special Projects, New American Economy
  • Philippa Hughes, Founder & Chief Creative Strategist,
  • Kalisha Davis, Detroit Historical Society and Museum
  • Phyllis Noda, International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit

Background: At a time when Americans are more polarized than ever, especially on the issue of immigration, several organizations have partnered together to help bridge the divide. Looking for America seeks to bring people together across a multitude of political opinions and answer the question, “What does it mean to be American?” 

The Looking for America tour is an effort to hear different perspectives on immigration in America through the lens of very different communities. At a time when Americans are more divided than ever, especially on the issue of immigration, Looking for America seeks to bring people together across political divides and answer the question, “What does it mean to be American?” This series serves to reveal what different Americans and communities think about immigration, how local culture and circumstance is shaping political perspectives across the United States, and how we can build more constructive dialogue and understanding at a time of increasing division and polarization across America. 

Along with the Detroit Historical Society, partners include the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Global Detroit, New American Economy, the American University School of Public Affairs,, and the Tenement Museum. This event is also being conducted in cooperation with Michigan Better Angels. Better Angels is a bipartisan citizens movement founded in direct response to the extreme polarization that surfaced around the 2016 election. The dinner and dialogue is part of a larger exhibit — on display and open to the public at the Detroit Historical Museum from July 18 to October 6, 2019 — featuring local artists who represent different backgrounds, countries of origin, political viewpoints, and art practices. 

The host cities and regions include Anchorage, Alaska; Detroit, Michigan; El Paso, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Northwest Arkansas; and Siouxland, Iowa. In addition to local partners, the national organizers of Looking for America are New American Economy, the American University School of Public Affairs, and These groups have come together to build a model for hosting constructive dialogue and civil discourse around pressing topics like immigration, which can eventually be shared and hosted in cities across each of the 50 states.  

Quotes from Looking for America Partners:

“We are proud to launch Looking For America in Detroit as it’s a city that represents some of America’s most cherished values, like endurance, hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance,” said Dan Wallace, Director of Special Projects at New American Economy. “It is an ideal setting to explore thoughts around American identity and immigration, and we are looking forward to applying lessons learned in this dialogue to the future cities we are visiting.”

“Art can help us to process complicated ideas and emotions,” said Philippa P.B. Hughes of “Sometimes people find it easier to identify with something that expresses how they feel, rather than what they think. In this way, art can lead to greater empathy between people who may not necessarily see eye to eye.”

“As someone proud to hail from Michigan, I am thrilled we are launching Looking for America in Detroit,” said Vicky Wilkins, Dean, School of Public Affairs at American University. “The School of Public Affairs at American University is committed to civil discourse as a crucial aspect of our democracy, and faculty members are committed to sharing these skills on and beyond campus, especially in this time of hyper-partisan divide. We also look forward to listening to and learning from community members in Detroit—and bringing those important learnings back to Washington, D.C.”

“The International Institute’s Centennial Tribute Exhibit captures the spirit of the immigrant and refugee people we have served since 1919,” said Dr. Phyllis Noda, guest curator and President of the Board of Directors, International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit. “It is the spirit of the men and women who, looking for America, found and built the America of their dreams on cherished memories of their homelands, and hopes for the future, presented in this exhibit’s artifacts, costumes and mementos.”

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About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…