January 2022

Meet Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly is Director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute and Chair and Professor of History in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. 

As Director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, Professor Kelly supports IUPUI’s research mission by directing the IAHI grant programs, identifying and fostering transdisciplinary research collaborations, and organizing research workshops and symposia. Additionally, he facilitates public arts and humanities partnerships, including research projects, performances, lectures, and exhibitions.

Professor Kelly’s current research projects focus on the histories of the environment, sciences, and art and architecture. He leads The Anthropocenes Network, an international, transdisciplinary, collaborative network committed to developing innovative interventions in environmental research, pedagogy, and policy. The Anthropocenes Network is home to several projects including 1) Rivers of the Anthropocene, a research project focused on global freshwater systems and policy; 2) Voices from the Waterways, an oral history project; 3) The Anthropocene Household, a community-based research project that uses the household as a way to understand the lived experiences, knowledges, and practices associated with environmental change; and 4) Museum of the Anthropocene, an experimental platform to develop multi-sited, synchronous, interactive, networked environmental installations.

Professor Kelly directs The Cultural Ecologies Project, a research program and PhD track that works with community stakeholders to study and design cultural interventions across multiple scales — from the personal to the neighborhood to the city level. Most recently, he founded The Covid-19 Oral History Project, a rapid-response research collaboration that archives the lived experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

 I am interested in transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary scholarship that centers the important work of the arts and humanities.

Professor Jason Kelly

Q and A with Professor Kelly

By training, I am a historian of eighteenth-century British art, science, and society. Like many scholars, my research areas have broadened over the years and now generally fall under three categories: 1) eighteenth-century history; 2) environmental studies (I’m especially focused on the Anthropocene); and 3) contemporary art and cultural policy. My interest in these three areas are logical extensions of my training, but they are also the result of my work as Director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute (IAHI).    

To some extent, I have always been interested in history as a field of study—perhaps because I grew up outside Philadelphia and was surrounded by locations described in my history books. Places such as Valley Forge and Washington’s Crossing were not only locations that I visited on school trips; they were also parks where I spent time with my family on weekends. When I was in high school, I lived abroad for two summers with a family just outside Paris. There, I was able to explore the rich history of the city and its environs. Surrounded by art and architecture, this experience opened my eyes to the many ways that we can learn about the past.  

In college and graduate school, these interests expanded into broader interdisciplinary approaches. I became particularly focused on looking at the past (including the contemporary past) by bringing together questions, theories, and methods from multiple disciplines. And, in my 17 years at IUPUI, my interests have further expanded into public arts and humanities work that not only engages with communities but with STEM disciplines.

In my public scholarship, I have been working on two main projects for the past few years.  

The first is the Cultural Ecologies Project, which examines how cultural interventions transform cities. On the research side of this project, we have been working with community and government organizations to better understand and address issues around arts and equity in Indianapolis. We have consulted on arts education and funding as well as public arts programs. We have also worked with artists throughout the city in education programs that have explored gentrification, arts-led urban development, and the intersection of religion, spirituality, and the arts.  

The second project is the Anthropocene Household Project, which attempts to understand the experience of global environmental change at the household level. This project works with communities to tell the stories about their environments through oral histories. There is a community-based seminar on environmental justice. And, working with our partners in the School of Science, we are providing households free water, soil, and dust lead testing kits. 

By working with organizations and municipal government, we have been able to make recommendations on how to create more equitable outcomes in arts funding and arts education. And, we have been home to ongoing conversations about ethics, equity, and the arts for the past five years.  

By working with the School of Science, we have been able provide individual households lead testing data so they can mitigate the risks of lead poisoning. By working with organizational partners, we have been able to help educate the public more broadly about the risks of lead poisoning and provide data on the scale of lead in the community.  

I love work that brings together new collaborations across the disciplines. In my work on the environment, I have been particularly excited to be able to bring together artists, humanists, socials scientists, and community leaders to address complex problems that can only be solved by working together.  

The IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute always includes graduate students and/or undergraduate students in our grants. Through the funding we receive, we are able to provide high-impact learning experiences as students participate in ongoing interdisciplinary research programs.  

We work together with community members through all phases of our projects—from conceptualization, through design, and through implementation. Depending on the project, community members might be embedded in the research team or lead community discussions. We might publish an article together or design a collaborative exhibition.    

For the Cultural Ecologies Project, we are currently doing a series of surveys to develop an understanding of how cultural institutions, artists, and community members approach diversity, equity, and inclusion in the arts.  

The Anthropocene Household Project is getting ready to expand our work in soil, dust, and water testing.   

Conversation with Professor Kelly

On Friday, January 28, 2022 from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. Professor Kelly gave a virtual presentation about his work on “Transdisciplinarity, Public Scholarship, and the Anthropocene.” In this presentation, Professor Jason Kelly discussed the necessity of reimagining scholarly collaboration and public scholarship in and for the Anthropocene. In doing so, it argues for the importance of a transdisciplinarity rooted in self-reflexivity, critique, and community engagement—and the implications for the 21st-century university.