The Humanities Action Lab, a coalition of 20 colleges and universities, including the University of New Orleans, has received a $150,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for collaborating to produce student- and community-curated public projects around pressing social issues.
The funds will support the Humanities Action Lab’s current initiative, States of Incarceration, a traveling multi-media exhibition, web platform, and curricula focusing on the evolution and impact of mass incarceration in the United States, created by students and others directly affected by incarceration through simultaneous courses at 20 campuses.
The exhibition opened at The New School’s Sheila C. Johnson Design Center in April 2016 and, over three years, is traveling to each of the 20 communities that participated in its creation. The exhibition travels to The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans in April, running from April 6 to May 1. It will be accompanied by an exhibition of young people’s artwork produced through workshops with local artist/activists entitled Picturing a World Without Prisons: Young Artists Take on the Carceral State.
Funding from the Mellon Foundation will support the Humanities Action Lab’s commitment to diversifying the institutions and communities engaged in this national dialogue on incarceration past and present, by involving the participation of community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities in communities that are deeply impacted by incarceration.
In addition, the Mellon grant will support an additional copy of the exhibition so that the project can reach new communities, curricular resources for potential new higher education partners, a National Convening of existing and new partners, and the creation of a Strategic Plan for Humanities Action Lab and States of Incarceration.
"We are pleased to support a growing national effort to educate university students and the residents of communities they serve about the challenges that mass incarceration represents in a democratic society,” said Eugene Tobin, a senior program officer at the Mellon Foundation.
Designed by Brooklyn-based design firm Matter Practice, the States of Incarceration physical exhibition features interviews with formerly incarcerated people, corrections officers, and policy advocates; images capturing the evolution of crime and punishment in different contexts; and data demonstrating the explosive growth of incarceration and its impact on American society. The online statesofincarceration.org, designed by Picture Projects, also based in Brooklyn, includes digital exhibits and a “Shape the Debate” mobile campaign, expanding on the traveling exhibition and provide a medium to connect communities across the country.
At UNO, a team of students and people directly affected by incarceration explored the experiences of citizens in the city and state with this pressing social issue. UNO’s team’s work was compiled with work from 19 other universities to create a collective, multi-faceted portrait of incarceration, past and present, framed by the key questions these histories raise. When the exhibition travels to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, public programs, local exhibition components, a youth summit, and community conversations will build on local histories and connections with issue organizations to ground the national conversation in the local context of incarceration.
“This grant from the Mellon Foundation, one of the nation’s premier funders working to diversify the humanities, will enable us to expand our network to engage more students to exchange local histories and collective memories, to grapple with how incarceration has profoundly shaped our communities.” said Liz Sevcenko, director of the Humanities Action Lab.
UNO’s participation in the Humanities Action Lab is led by Mary Niall Mitchell, endowed chair and co-director of the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies, and Benjamin Weber, Midlo Center associate and Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University. The university’s participation in the Humanities Action Lab consortium has been supported by UNO’s Department of History and Philosophy and the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies.
“Our participation in HAL’s collaborative project on incarceration has created a terrific opportunity for UNO students to engage with a pressing social issue within their own community," said Mitchell. "Living as they do in the world’s prison capital means that incarceration has touched the lives of many of their friends and family members. Putting the incarceration crisis in historical perspective and sharing ideas and experiences with current inmates at Angola, has been revelatory for them. With this exhibition they get to share what they have learned with the community at large and open a dialogue for change.”