States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories

On View: April 6 – April 30, 2017

The Exhibition

States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories  is the first national traveling multi-media exhibition and coordinated public dialogue to explore the history and future of mass incarceration in the United States. The Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies and the Department of History at the University of New Orleans partnered with The Humanities Action Lab (HAL), a coalition of universities and issue organizations that collaborate to produce public humanities projects. A New School-led consortium of 500 university students and formerly incarcerated individuals from 20 cities collaborated to create the traveling exhibition, which launched in New York City in April 2016.

The exhibition and project, the culmination of two years of planning and discussion between the communities, is a national public reckoning with one of the most pressing issues facing our country. Using many tools of truth and reconciliation processes, the 20 communities explored the deep historical roots of incarceration, shared personal stories related to the issue, and strategized ways of enacting policy change. In each location, the traveling exhibition and public programs will focus on an issue of incarceration that is unique to that community. UNO’s contribution to the States of Incarceration focuses on the history of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the convict lease system in the early 20th century. In addition, UNO students conducted a postcard exchange with those currently incarcerated at Angola, which culminated in the online exhibit Stories from Prison.

The Local Exhibition

Over the past year, with support from UNO’s History Department, the Midlo Center produced public programming for States of Incarceration, in collaboration with community partners including Voice of the Experienced (V.O.T.E.), Ashé Cultural Arts Center, Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, WWNO’s Unprisoned series, The Beat Within, local schools, and local artists.

Alongside the traveling exhibition, the project will also present Picturing a World Without Prisons: Young Artists Confront the Carceral State, an exhibition of young people’s artwork exploring the theme of incarceration and reflecting on a future with fewer prisons. The pieces were created in a series of artist-led workshops for local students, including those at the Travis Hill School in the Youth Studies Center, a youth detention center in New Orleans.

(above, artwork created by students at the Travis Hill School at the Youth Studies Center)

The Traveling Exhibition

The 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 exhibition was designed by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based design firm Matter Practice.

States of Incarceration also includes a web platform,; public dialogues; and a “Shape the Debate” mobile campaign. Designed by Picture Projects, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based studio, these elements expand on the traveling exhibition and provide a medium to connect communities across the country.

States of Incarceration is a project of Humanities Action Lab, a collaboration between University of New Orleans Midlo Center for New Orleans and 19 others, led by The New School, working with issue-based organizations and public spaces to foster new public dialogue on contested social issues, through public humanities projects that explore the diverse local histories and current realities of shared global concerns. Universities partnering in States of Incarceration are Arizona State University, Brown University, DePaul University, Duke University, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, 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.

Related: Teen Convening New Orleans

Thank you to our sponsors and partners

States of Incarceration was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Humanities, Whiting Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and TenLegs.