The National Endowment for the Humanities is spending $250,000 on a traveling exhibit that displays "collective memories" of prisoners.
Funded through the agency’s Common Good" initiative, the exhibit is a joint effort by 20 universities with the purpose of engaging in a "national dialogue on incarceration."
The traveling exhibit will kick off at the New School in New York City in April, and will then travel to each of the participating schools over the next three years. Universities involved in the project include Brown, Duke, Rutgers, and the University of Texas.
"Leading up to the launch of the exhibition, teams of students and people directly affected by incarceration from 20 cities will explore their communities’ experience with this pressing social issue," a press release announcing the project said. "The work of each team will be compiled into a collective, multi-faceted portrait of incarceration, past and present, framed by the key questions these histories raise."
"States of Incarceration" will include a "traveling multi-media exhibition, web platform, and curricula focusing on mass incarceration."
The New School’s Humanities Action Lab said the project hopes to bring together "collective memories" of what it is like to be incarcerated.
"This grant from 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, director of the Humanities Action Lab.
"We hope by coming together to exchange diverse local histories and collective memories, we can foster new national dialogue on how to move forward," she said.
The National Endowment for the Humanities said the project intends to start a national "dialogue and understanding" on mass incarceration, a topic that has received increasing attention from political campaigns. Hillary Clinton called for an "end to mass incarceration" last year.
The Obama administration approved the early release of 6,000 federal prisoners in October, the largest one-time release in history. An additional 8,550 inmates will be eligible for release by November 2016 under the administration’s drug sentencing reforms.
"The pressing challenges facing our nation call for dialogue and understanding," William D. Adams, the agency’s chairman said. "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," he said.