The Humanities Action Lab Awarded $310,000 Grant by National Endowment for the Humanities

Humanities Action Lab

May 1, 2017

The National Endowment for the Humanities has announced a $310,000 grant to the Humanities Action Lab (HAL), a coalition of 20 universities, including Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N), collaborating to produce student- and community-curated public projects on pressing social issues. 

The funds will support public dialogues and local exhibits around HAL’s current project, States of Incarceration:  A National Dialogue of Local Histories, a traveling exhibit, web platform, and curricula focusing on mass incarceration, in Newark, NJ and 19 other communities. Today, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world and at any other moment in its history. As a result, a massive number and wide range of people are involved in its prison system: from incarcerated people and their families to residents of prison towns to corrections personnel to consumers of prison-made goods and services. 

States of Incarceration will open in Newark, New Jersey in October of 2017. Students and faculty members from RU-N, along with local community partners will display their work on the ways in which current detainees and immigrants in the United States can fight back against incarceration. Coinciding with the exhibition opening, the Humanities Action Lab will be moving from its current home at The New School, to Rutgers University-Newark this fall. For the past two years, HAL has been housed at The New School, where it received ample support from University students, faculty members, and staff. With this move to RU-N, HAL will receive additional support and resources in hopes of continuing the phenomenal work already completed for States of Incarceration, and delving into new projects on pressing social justice issues.

In the fall of 2015, over 600 students from RU-N and 19 other campuses in 17 states collaborated with constituents of nearly 30 community organizations of people directly impacted by incarceration to create the States of Incarceration digital platform and national traveling exhibition exploring the evolution and impact of the United States correctional system.  The exhibition launched in New York City at The New School’s Sheila Johnson Galleries in April 2016, and has since made its way to cities across the country, from Austin, TX, to Riverside, CA, to Greensboro, NC, and on.

“HAL does extraordinary work at the cutting edge of the public humanities,” said Rutgers University–Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “It’s where the humanities intersect with the arts, sciences, and professions, reflecting the complexity of the challenges and opportunities facing our community and communities across America. Grappling with that kind of complexity is something that our faculty, students, and staff have been doing for generations, so we couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities for what HAL and Rutgers-Newark can accomplish through our new relationship with HAL’s leadership and its national consortium.”

“With this grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, one of the nation’s largest funders of humanities programs, we will continue to provide opportunities to collectively reframe current debates and open new forms of dialogue about the future of the US criminal justice system,” said Liz Sevcenko, Director of the Humanities Action Lab. “We hope that through the process of exploring the histories, memories, and experiences of incarceration locally, students and partners directly affected by incarceration will engage diverse publics in the most pressing criminal justice issues from their own communities, and also inform the national conversation.”

“NEH grants matter in the many communities we serve around the country--in preserving cultural heritage, supporting local cultural organizations, and helping teachers teach and students learn,” said Chairman William D. Adams. “Our grants also matter at the national level, where they preserve our history and acquaint people more deeply with our cultural and political traditions. In making the humanities accessible to all Americans, NEH serves the common good."

In addition to Rutgers University-Newark, funds from this NEH grant will support programming In Phoenix, AZ  (partnership between Arizona State University and the Phoenix Public Library), Boston, MA (led by Northeastern University at its International Village), Saratoga Springs, NY (led by Skidmore College and its Tang Museum), New Brunswick, NJ (Rutgers University-New Brunswick at its Douglass Library), Nashville, TN (Vanderbilt University) and Minneapolis-St.Paul, MN (University of Minnesota).  Other universities partnering in States of Incarceration are Brown University, DePaul University, Duke University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Parsons Paris, University of California, Riverside, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Miami, University of New Orleans, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and University of Texas at Austin.