Center for the Advancement of Public Action

The Challenge

Problems proliferate. From income inequality to climate change, from failing schools to failed states, from exiled histories to foreclosed futures, our present is beset by challenges. Many of these entrenched and emergent problems seem just beyond the scope of a liberal arts education. What might it mean to more directly orient the liberal arts around these complex problems, not just in contemplation of them but with a deliberate aim to intervene in them? How can artists, scholars, and scientists collaborate and contribute to finding effective solutions to these problems? How can the classroom be expanded to foster new linkages between thought and action, the classroom and the outside world? What new insights and capacities are now needed to enact meaningful change?

The Response

The Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) at Bennington College responds to the urgent problems of our current world, discovers what one needs to know to understand them, and acts to implement solutions. Rooted in the liberal arts with a commitment to public action, CAPA teaches the essential capacities needed to develop an educated and emboldened citizenry. Through initiatives and curriculum, CAPA leverages the classroom as a new kind of studio for innovation and informed change. With engaged scholarship, community partnerships, and creative problem-solving strategies that draw on the skills of conflict resolution, complex systems analysis, and research and design, CAPA addresses the issues of our time from a novel vantage point: action.

CAPA Initiatives

CAPA Initiatives are multi-year programs that respond to urgent problems in the world. The goal of CAPA Initiatives is to build publics—communities of interest and involvement—around pressing concerns. These initiatives creatively assemble the resources of Bennington College around a specific issue and connect them to external stakeholders and organizations. This includes courses from across disciplines at the college; extracurricular and Field Work Term opportunities for students; trainings and workshops for local and college community members; curated exhibitions and engaged social practices in art; conferences that convene stakeholders and advance new solutions; and publications or programs that extend the work of CAPA Initiatives into wider audiences. CAPA Initiatives are designed in collaboration with local, national, and/or international groups and result in public action to foster better infrastructure, enable and create sustainable design, and to promote human rights.

Art in the Public RealmArt in the Public Realm creates innovative public art practices and new forms of direct engagement and exchange.

Environment and Public ActionIn advocacy, policy, and scholarship, the environment has become a potent site of meaning and action.

Human Rights and PeacebuildingIntractable conflicts are found in many parts of our contemporary world, and communities across the globe are searching for non-violent, just, and constructive solutions.

Incarceration in AmericaThe Incarceration in America initiative is dedicated to reforming the United States prison system. With its partners, it convenes stakeholders to affect public policy.

CAPA graphic

By Izzy Mozer '19

Community Development in VermontCAPA provides a space for reflection and collaboration around the many challenges and opportunities facing Vermont communities, including economic development, education, healthcare, and governance.

Prison Education Initiative img
Prison Education Initiative
PFOA building
Understanding PFOA
Quantum Leap img
Quantum Leap
Oslo Img 1
Art in Embassies—Oslo Project
CAPA Leadership Institute img
CAPA Leadership Institute
Vermont Legislative Series img
Vermont Legislative Forums
Student hanging flyer about LEDs on door
LED Project
Incarceration TaskForce img
Bennington College Incarceration Taskforce (BCIT)
Paran Creek Dam
Paran Creek Dam
The Prison Education Initiative is a collaboration of CAPA, New York State, and Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, NY. More
In 2014, the chemical Perfluorooctanoic acid (C8 or PFOA) was discovered in the drinking water in the Village of Hoosick Falls, NY... More
Since 1999, Quantum Leap has reconnected over 2,000 students to their education. More
Bennington students, working in collaboration with the State Department's Art in Embassies program, are creating a public artwork... More
The CAPA Leadership Institute is founded on the premise that the most effective solutions for sustainably resolving conflicts emerge out of... More
CAPA hosted three Vermont Legislative Forums that addressed policies and recent bills passed in the Vermont legislature... More
Born out of student response to community need, supported and informed by study with faculty, GANAS brings... More
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are increasingly used in streetlights in the US and around the world... More
The BCIT is a nonpartisan, evidence-based student group looking to increase public safety in Vermont by implementing smart-on-crime reforms. More
The mission of the Paran Creek Watershed Project is to support the Village of North Bennington’s long term stewardship of renewable water resources... More

What kind of world ARE we making? What kind of world SHOULD we be making? What kind of world CAN we be making? – Elizabeth Coleman, President Emeritus, founding director of CAPA


CAPA courtyard

CAPA is housed in a state-of-the-art facility designed by award-winning architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. It blends the studio of the artist, the laboratory of the scientist, the think tank of the policymaker, and the town square of the citizen.

Upcoming Conferences

The Future of Higher Education in Prison

Free and open to the public | More information and to register

Taconic Mountain Student Water Conference

FRIDAY–SATURDAY, MAY 19–20 | Tishman and CAPA
Free and open to the public | More information

Volatile Futures / Earthly Matters

Free and open to the public | More information

Upcoming Events

The Future of Higher Education in Prison
CAPA Symposium
Black Male Fugitivity in the Wake of Loss
CAPA Symposium
Between the Planetary and the Personal
CAPA Symposium
The Storms Already Among Us
CAPA Symposium
Sensing an Unruly Beyond
CAPA Symposium


Bill Scully hydropower project Led by Scully '94, Students Propose Local Hydropower Projects

Hydropower developer Bill Scully ’94 is working with Bennington students on two new power generation projects in the village of North Bennington.

Grace Initiative U.N. Delegates Discuss International Women’s Issues in CAPA

Bennington’s Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) hosted a talk by two United Nations delegates on women's empowerment and the changing role of women in the workplace.

The body of a child after a reported gas attack on Tuesday in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province. Credit Ammar Abdullah/Reuters, via the New York Times Joint Statement After Chemical Attack in Syria

Susan Sgorbati, Director of CAPA, and Vahidin Omanovic of the Center for Peacebuilding, released the following joint statement.

Sgorbati Reviews "An Uncertain Ally" by David L. Phillips Sgorbati Reviews "An Uncertain Ally" by David L. Phillips

David L. Phillips is director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a senior adviser and foreign affairs expert at the U.S. Department of State during the administrations of President Clinton, Bush, and Obama. He has published many books on the Middle East, including An Uncertain Ally: Turkey Under Erdogan’s DictatorshipThe Kurdish Spring: A New Map for the Middle East, and Losing Iraq: Inside the Post-War Reconstruction Fiasco

Center for the Advancement of Public Action Bond Pens Op-Ed on Importance of EPA

David Bond, associate director of Bennington's Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA), co-authored an Op-Ed in the Bennington Banner against the Trump Administration's blanket freeze on all EPA grants and contracts. 

From Transgender Day of Remembrance at Bennington College Generation Protest

President Silver published an essay about student expectations that protests will be part of their college experience, and the role of educators in helping them learn how to effect change.

David Bond writes about the rise of Trumpism Bond Co-edits "The Rise of Trumpism"

On the eve of the presidential inauguration, a top journal in American anthropology has published a collection of essays, co-edited by Associate Director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action David Bond, which raises new questions about the rise of Trump and the current state of American politics. The collection features work from leading anthropologists who offer provocative reflections on the culture of Trump and popular misconceptions of class and race today. These wide-ranging essays offer bold new interpretations of solidarity, hate and the future of American democracy.

Hack VT Hacking Education

Rohail Altaf '17 and Asad J. Malik '19 were recently awarded a $3000 prize at the Vermont Hackathon for creating an app that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve student engagement in online courses. The pair opted for general entry, rather than as a student team, in order to be able to compete in the overall pool, against agencies and tech companies.

North Bennington Train Station Student Research to Inform Local Hydroelectric Decisions

Representatives from a class gave a report to the Village Board of Trustees on Tuesday about their ongoing research to generate a feasibility study on local dams and waterway privileges. 

PFOA Donohue video Dr. Joyce Donohue speaks on EPA's new health advisory level for PFOA

On Thursday, October 6, Bennington College welcomed EPA Senior Health Scientist Joyce Donohue. In May 2016, the EPA issued a new guidance level of 70 ppt for PFOA in drinking water. Dr. Donohue gave a public lecture on the background and significance of the new EPA health guidance level for PFOA in drinking water.