INDIANAPOLIS — The National Endowment for the Humanities has announced a $250,000 grant to The New School’s Humanities Action Lab, a coalition of 20 universities, including Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, collaborating to produce student- and community-curated public projects on pressing social issues.
The grant is the largest of the first 21 NEH “Humanities in the Public Square” grant awards. The funds will support public dialogues around HAL’s current project, “States of Incarceration,” a traveling exhibit, Web platform and curriculum focusing on mass incarceration.
Today, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world and at any other moment in its history, with deep racial disparities in the system enforcing inequalities in American society.
To tackle this pressing issue, HAL invited students and people directly affected by incarceration in 20 cities to explore their own communities’ experiences with incarceration: how it evolved historically and what issues remain today. Each team created one local “chapter” of what will be compiled into a collective, multifaceted portrait of incarceration, past and present, framed by the key questions these histories raise. The exhibition, designed by the firm Matter Practice, will open at The New School’s Sheila C. Johnson Design Center in April and, over the next three years, travel to Indianapolis and the other 18 communities that created it.
“This grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, one of the nation’s largest funders of humanities programs, will enable us to explore how Americans have grappled with incarceration in the past and how it has profoundly shaped generations of people in each of our communities,” said Liz Sevcenko, Humanities Action Lab director. “We hope by coming together to exchange diverse local histories and collective memories, we can foster new national dialogue on how to move forward.”
The “States of Incarceration” exhibition opens at the Johnson Center galleries and will coincide with a national public forum at The New School April 14-16. The forum will provide a space for students — including those from IUPUI who worked on the exhibit — to come together with stakeholders, scholars and policy experts to engage in a national dialogue on incarceration. The forum will feature tactile interactives, digital polling and face-to-face dialogues. As the exhibit travels, local partners will host dialogues in their communities, in exchange with partners in other cities working on related issues.
A Web platform, designed by the studio Picture Projects, will expand on the traveling exhibition and provide a medium to connect communities across the country.
IUPUI will host “States of Incarceration” April and May 2017 at the Central Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library. The IUPUI segment of the exhibit focuses on the intersection of serious mental illnesses and incarceration. Programming for the Indianapolis exhibition, which will coincide with the National Council on Public History‘s national conference, will be developed by community partners and IUPUI students under the direction of Elizabeth Kryder-Reid, professor of anthropology and museum studies in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.
“IUPUI’s focus on the intersections of mental health and incarceration bring attention to this important and often-ignored topic,” Kryder-Reid said. “Our partnerships with the Indiana Medical History Museum, the National Alliance on Mental Health Indiana, and National Alliance on Mental Health Indianapolis exemplify the power of public humanities to connect past and present in order to imagine a more just future.”
IUPUI’s participation in the Humanities Action Lab is led by Kryder-Reid and Modupe Labode, associate professor of history and museum studies at IUPUI. The two professors previously led IUPUI to collaborate with more than a dozen other universities across the country to create the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, an internationally traveling exhibit, Web platform and series of dialogues reaching over 500,000 people in 18 cities that served as the pilot for HAL.
In addition to IUPUI, universities partnering in “States of Incarceration” are Arizona State University, Brown University, DePaul University, Duke University, Northeastern University, Parsons Paris, Rutgers University-Newark, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Skidmore College, The New School, University of California, Riverside, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Miami, University of Minnesota, University of New Orleans, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of Texas at Austin and Vanderbilt University.
“The pressing challenges facing our nation call for dialogue and understanding,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams. “There is ample evidence that communities across the nation are eager to come together to discuss the critical issues that face them as citizens and neighbors. Using the unique insights of the humanities, the Humanities Action Lab project will bring new audiences and organizations together in ways that address compelling public concerns.”
The Humanities in the Public Square grant program is part of Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, a new initiative to foster innovative ways to make scholarship relevant to contemporary issues.