The Public Intellectual: Guru, Gadfly, and Cultural Gunrunner

Walker Art Center’s Opening the Field

The Public Intellectual: Guru, Gadfly, and Cultural Gunrunner

Thursdays, June 24, July 8, July 22

7-8:30 p. m.

Moderated by Charisse Gendron, poet and Ph.D.


This Open Field event will be a three-part conversation on the role of the public intellectual in the transmission of ideas beyond the academy. Grounded in six examples from the 1960s, we will talk about the qualifications of public intellectuals; the conditions that produce them; their impact on the exchange of ideas; and their commonalities with and differences from journalists, philosophers, provocateurs, scholars, critics, activists, artists, and policy makers. Our six examples—Timothy Leary, Norman O. Brown, Betty Friedan, Angela Davis, Susan Sontag, and James Baldwin—will provide an historical framework for discussion and link nicely to WAC’s 1964 exhibition, which we may choose to visit, singly or together. Ultimately, we will address the questions: who are today’s public intellectuals, famous, infamous, or obscure, locally and nationally? Without the structure provided by the university community, what media do they use to connect with other thinkers? How can we engage with them to optimize the conditions for a thriving “open field” of ideas? Participants are encouraged to download the readings from the pages on this site. Feel free to email me at with questions.