A nationally touring exhibition will make two back-to-back stops in Southern California to share how local environmental histories are intertwined with movements for racial, immigrant, and labor rights as well as equitable access to affordable housing, clean air, and green space.
Using virtual reality, audio testimony, and historical imagery to delve into the deep roots of climate inequality and environmental injustice, “Climates of Inequality: Stories of Environmental Justice” is accompanied by a series of locally produced public programs. The exhibition will be on view at the Japanese American National Museum (Sept. 24 through Oct. 1) and the Riverside Art Museum (Oct. 14 through Nov. 5).
In addition to stories drawn from communities across the U.S., Mexico and beyond, two local narratives will be on view: “Reimagining Immigrants and Environmental Justice,” a collaboration among students and faculty from CSU Northridge, UC Santa Barbara, and Padres Pioneros; and “Witnessing the Slow Violence of the Supply Chain,” a collaboration among students and faculty from UC Riverside and People’s Collective for Environmental Justice. All worked alongside a coalition of universities and community organizations led by the Humanities Action Lab at Rutgers University-Newark.
Liz Sevcenko, founder of the Humanities Action Lab, emphasizes that Southern California partners’ work provides critical lessons and inspiration for others across the country.
“‘Climates of Inequality’ brings history to the climate fight in two ways: increasing communities’ knowledge of histories that help guide a path through the climate crisis, and building skills to practice public history as a resiliency strategy,” she said. “We hope to help audiences understand environmental inequality and its implications for climate change, by sharing both scholarship and community narratives.”
Speaking about the significance of the exhibition, Catherine Gudis, associate professor of history and director of public history at UCR, said, “This exhibition powerfully illustrates the ways that impacts of climate change have been felt disproportionately by communities of color and working people, historically, as well as how communities have organized for change, and use art, music, and the power of story to do so. It sparks conversation and the creativity we need to collectively reimagine a more equitable future, even as we continue to uplift stories of the past.”
“Public programming will bring together activists, scholars, writers, and community members who are open to dialogue about concerns related to environmental justice in their local communities,” said Stevie Ruiz, associate professor of Chicana/o studies at CSUN. “Our community members stand committed to ensuring the public obtains a greater awareness about climate equity and social justice.”
All are free, open to the public, and include same-day museum admission at the public program venue. If noted, reservations are required, but walk-up attendance is available if space permits.
• Thursday, Sept. 28, 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Japanese American National Museum, National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (100 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo). A panel discussion, “From the Ground Up: Creating Heat and Climate Resilient Communities,” brings city officials together with community-based groups to consider how we can all work together on the pressing issues of rising heat as a result of climate change.
It is well documented that these impacts are felt the most in underserved communities of color. How do we begin to address historically disinvested areas of Los Angeles where the connection among issues of climate, health, and equity are inextricably tied? And how do we tackle those issues with broader engagement that values the perspectives of communities bearing the burdens?
• Saturday, Sept. 30, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Japanese American National Museum. Symposium and film screening: “Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust.” This inspired and poetic portrait of a place and its people focuses on the World War II concentration camp at the foot of the majestic snow-capped Sierra mountains as the confluence for memories of Payahuunadü, the now-parched “land of flowing water.” Intergenerational women from Native American, Japanese American, and rancher communities form an unexpected alliance to defend their land and water from Los Angeles. Spanish/English translation available.
• Saturday, Oct. 14, 4:30 to 7 p.m. at UCR Arts (3824 Main St., Riverside). Film screening/filmmaker discussion/musical performance/reception: “Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust.” This event launches the “Manzanar, Diverted” augmented reality visual sound bath experience. Before the screening, Alexander Miranda, member of the composing team and a Payómkawichum (Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians) artist, will play his array mbira. After the screening, audiences can don VR headsets to experience the AR visual sound bath of scenes of Payahüünadü in the 360 mode.
• Sunday, Oct. 22, 2 to 4 p.m. at Riverside Art Museum (3425 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside). Listening session and public conversation: “Climates of Inequality: EJ in the I.E.” This dialogue with environmental justice organizers from the Inland Empire will consider how their communities mobilize storytelling for change, to save their lives and those of generations to follow. Free museum entry to registrants. Spanish/English translation available.
• Thursday, Nov. 2, 6 p.m. at Riverside Art Museum. Panel discussion and exhibition reception: “Environmental Justice in the IE: Community-based Practices in Art and Activism.” Local social practice artists, documentarians, and activists Tamara Cedré, Noé Montes, and Anthony Victoria talk about the challenges of representing the slow violence of the supply chain, which digs deep into historical forces of colonialism, extraction, and exploitation of the land and people.
With over a billion square feet of warehouses blanketing the I.E. and a vast infrastructure — freeways, railroads, and intermodal rail yards — carrying goods to market, how can the arts help humanize the issues and convey the magnitude of the impacts felt today in Riverside and San Bernardino, where residents experience among the highest rates of air pollution and asthma in the nation.
• Saturday, Nov. 4, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Riverside Art Museum. Exhibition tour and workshop for educators: “Climates of Inequality.” Community-based organizers and instructors in high schools, colleges, and universities are invited to learn and share how to bring regional issues of environmental justice and sustainability into their classrooms. Workshop participants will build upon strategies that can best provide pathways for students to engage in environmental justice work at all levels. Space is limited, so registration is required.
• Sunday, Nov. 5, 1 p.m. at Riverside Art Museum. Read aloud and artmaking for children: “Cultures of Environmentalism.” Children’s books have begun to focus in sensitive ways on conveying issues around climate change, and to teach us how different cultures think about the environment. Families with children ages 3-7 are invited to this bilingual reading of Carole Lindstorm and Michaela Goade’s “We Are Water Protectors” (2021 Caldecott Medal winner), and Mona Damluji and Innosanto Nagara’s “Together” (2021). Spanish/English translation available.