How the Light Gets In

An interactive installation highlighting the experiences and wisdom of formerly incarcerated women at the Spencer Museum of Art and Lawrence Public Library
Spencer Museum of Art & Lawrence Public Library // Lawrence, Kansas
Picture of How the Light Gets In

There are fragments of wisdom everywhere. —S. Newman

How the Light Gets In is an interactive art installation in two parts — offered at Lawrence Public Library and the Spencer Museum of Art — and exploring themes of learning and knowledge, chance encounters, and finding wisdom in unexpected places.

Created by metaLAB Principal Sarah Newman and the metaLAB team and developed in collaboration with Professor Hyunjin Seo and the KU Center for Digital Inclusion, this project builds on the work of Professor Seo and her team with formerly incarcerated women reentering society. The metaLAB and KU teams developed the project through a combination of conversations and creative workshops with these women.

The installation poses questions about who holds knowledge and wisdom and who is situated to teach or transmit that knowledge to others. The work also explores the role of chance in a person’s life. The myth that hard work and determination are sufficient for success ignores individuals’ circumstances that are beyond their control. Over the past year, the women in the reentry program participated in workshops and conversations with Newman to contribute their words as the text that is displayed and printed in both sites, and which will intermingle with the reflections of museum-goers and library patrons. In this way, informed by the wisdom of the women in the program as well as of the audience, the exhibition encourages viewers to approach others with compassion, curiosity, and humility.

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The installation at the Spencer Museum includes a 360 degree text-based projection of the women’s wisdom projected onto theater scrim, animated and dreamlike, it also includes six alcoves that museum-goers can enter to submit their own knowledge to the expanding corpus of text that mysteriously prints in the gallery ceiling and falls to the floor. One of the alcoves contains a “reading nook” with a selection of books by artists, scholars, and writers on themes of incarceration, oppression, and power.

At the Lawrence Public Library, the exhibit occupies the library atrium, where eight selected texts from the women inscribe the columns of the atrium. The library installation also includes custom designed lighting, an interactive station where library patrons can contribute their own knowledge to the database, and a printer that will print content submitted by the women, by the museum-goers, and by the library patrons. The librarians also have created a special selection of books and media, which will be available in the atrium in the seating area of the exhibition.

Contributors to this work include Agnes Lambert, Audrey, Brittania McKnight, Carol Long, Cassandra Rosine, Cassandra Taylor, Charisa Chairozaim, Jodi R Whitt, JSSV, Kathyrn Skirvin, Kim Gardner, Kitty, LaTisha Fouch, Linda Swopes, Marilyn Chaney, Michelle Prettyman, Phoenix rose from the ashes!, Rebecca Riedel, Sabrena Morgan, Samantha Jo Archer, Sehara A Hays, Sonja M. West, Stacey Johnson, Tameeka Allen, Tamiko Grandison, Tanesha W., Tosh, and additional contributors who chose to remain anonymous.

This project is a collaboration between metaLAB (at) Harvard, the KU Center for Digital Inclusion, the Spencer Museum of Art, and the Lawrence Public Library. It is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, the Mellon Foundation, and the Linda Inman Bailey Exhibitions Fund.


Leads: Sarah Newman (art) & Hyunjin Seo (research)

Design: Juliana Castro, Sabrina Madera, Sonia Ralston, Jade Wu

Facilitation: Darcey Altschwager, & Annalise Baines

Research: Asa Hadley

Tech: Max Lever & Daniel Feist

Sound: Halsey Burgund

Animation & Projection: Antonieta Bocxe & Josh Heckathorn-Lane

Curatorial: Joey Orr, Spencer Museum of Art, Heather Kearns, Lawrence Public Library