Elizabeth Kryder-Reid, Chancellor’s Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, and Laura Holzman, professor and public scholar of curatorial practices and visual art in the IU Herron School of Art & Design and IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, were awarded the fellowship for their project “Indy Toxic Heritage: Pollution, Place and Power.”
“This project is an example of something we know: Environmental concerns are not just a science issue,” Holzman said. “We are storytellers. We have the skills to activate information in a way that will resonate with people and create understanding, which is an important step in working toward solutions.”
Elizabeth Kryder-Reid, left, and Laura Holzman at the 2023 IUPUI Center for Translating Research Into Practice Showcase and Awards. Photo by Justin Casterline, Indiana UniversityKryder-Reid and Holzman previously worked on Climates of Inequality, an international, collaborative multimedia initiative created by Humanities Action Lab to educate people about environmental issues impacting various communities, examine the historical roots of those issues and develop strategies for improvement.
That collaboration inspired the Indy Toxic Heritage project. Kryder-Reid and Holzman are working with the Kheprw Institute, Indy Parks and Recreation; community-based scholars and activists Kay Hawthorne and Kaila Austin; and residents of neighborhoods such as Norwood, on the southeast side, and Riverside, on the near west side, to solicit and curate stories.
Those neighborhoods have been disproportionately impacted by the burdens of pollutants like residue from the lead industry, coal ash and heavy metals from power plants, raw sewage in urban waterways, and contaminated ground water from gas stations and dry cleaners.
“Laura and I discussed, ‘What if we revisited our common roots with Climates of Inequality, but really considered the question of toxic heritage in Indianapolis, very much from a community-curated model,’” Kryder-Reid said.
“What do these sites mean to the people who’ve lived in them and are affected by them? Not just people who are the victims of pollution and have poor health outcomes because of it, although that’s obviously an important history to recognize. But also, the people who’ve been working for generations to try to create safe, healthy places for everyone to live. This is very much a story of community agency. We’re curating community members’ stories of resilience and activism; its work has been going on for a long time, and it’s incredibly powerful.”
Pollution in urban waterways is one environmental problem that has disproportionately affected lower-income areas and communities of color in Indianapolis. Photo by Elizabeth Kryder-ReidThe Bantz Fellowship, an annual campus award, includes a $40,000 grant for one year to support a collaborative research team and community partners to address a pressing community issue in central Indiana.
“We’re drawing from research and community conversations to develop the scope of what will be highlighted,” Holzman said. “The main emphasis of the project will be connecting experiences to tell a broader story.”
“The project will make clear that these toxic places stem from generations of inequitable policies and environmental racism that have meant that these communities have been subject to layers of environmental burdens,” Kryder-Reid said. “They’re not single episodes; this is part of our history of structural social inequalities.”
Holzman and Kryder-Reid hope the project not only educates and deepens critical thinking about the history and ongoing impact of environmental injustice in Indianapolis; they want to inspire people to take action.
“I would like every person who comes to the exhibit to recognize their own place in this broader landscape of Indianapolis’ toxic heritage,” Holzman said. “Helping people see their connection, whether it’s work that they’ve been doing reflected in the exhibit or realizing that that they’re tied to it in ways that they hadn’t thought of previously, can be very impactful.”
“We hope that this raises awareness and leads more people to get involved with the community-based organizations that are working for environmental remediation of sites, amplifying health concerns and demanding that public dollars be invested equally across the city in ways that create safe, healthy environments for everyone,” Kryder-Reid said.
The traveling exhibition is scheduled to go on display at various Indy Parks and Recreation sites and other locations beginning in June. Digital resources will complement the exhibit and programs, including a website, story maps, digital archives and open-access publications.