International traveling exhibit on environmental justice opens at Milwaukee County Historical Society

An event on Friday, April 19, at the Milwaukee County Historical Society will celebrate the opening of “Climates of Inequality: Stories of Environmental Justice,” an international traveling multimedia exhibition and web platform.

Featuring local Milwaukee stories gathered by UWM students, the exhibit runs through May 31 at the historical society (910 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). Companion events, including a community forum at Milwaukee City Hall, will occur throughout the run of the exhibit.

The overall project involved a coalition of more than 500 students and community members across the Western Hemisphere, with the finished exhibit traveling to 17 cities in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Mexico and Colombia in addition to Milwaukee. The local stories originating from community members throughout the Greater Milwaukee area were collected by UWM students from a variety of social science disciplines associated with the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Public History Field School under the direction of Professor Arijit Sen.

Since 2019, this team has explored the roots of climate inequality and environmental injustice by collecting local personal experiences and ideas for change. The collection was then curated into a multimedia display that includes virtual reality, audio testimony and imagery. The exhibition explores how the climate crisis and environmental injustice are intensifying inequality and how the experiences of the hardest-hit, front-line communities hold the keys and creativity to confronting these issues and finding ways to move forward.

“In Milwaukee, the lack of access to healthy food and good housing in Black and Brown communities is a result of a long history of purposeful disinvestment, racism and bad urban policies. Yet the roots of these problems and solutions to them remain invisible to those who are outsiders,” Sen said. “Our project narrates stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary work around housing, health and food justice; they have resisted, struggled, and succeeded against forces of disinvestment and injustice. We challenge our audience members to act in ways that address the root cause of environmental inequities.”

Ben Barbera, executive director and president of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, sees this exhibit as the beginning of the historical society’s plans to develop an oral history collection that reflects the stories of ordinary Milwaukeeans.

“Documenting the stories of all Milwaukeeans is essential to our mission to preserve and share the full and often undocumented history of Milwaukee County,” Barbera said. “By hosting the ‘Climates of Inequality’ exhibition and working with local partners from UWM and other organizations, the Milwaukee County Historical Society is embarking on an ambitious program to become a historical resource that represents and serves everyone in the county.”

The exhibition opening event is 5-7 p.m. on Friday, April 19. The exhibition opened to the public on April 9. Public programs that complement the exhibit’s theme include workshops, a City Hall pop-up exhibit and panel discussion, a history of Black Milwaukee presentation by John Gurda, student-led gallery tours, a group naturalization ceremony for local residents becoming U.S. citizens and a gardener’s summit.  The companion events can be viewed at