The grant will support a collaborative exploration of the Pennhurst Archive.

With generous support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University will engage in a project which unlocks historical, personal and emotional knowledge of one of Pennsylvania’s 14 institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – the Pennhurst State School and Hospital. Part exhibition and part community gathering, Reclaiming Our Past, Constructing Our Future: A Collaborative Exploration of the Pennhurst Archive will journey across archives, artifact and personal narrative to illustrate the untold story and ongoing impact of Institutionalization.


“This project is timely,’ said Sally Gould-Taylor, PhD, Interim Executive Director of the Institute on Disabilities. “As we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we are reminded of the need for informed dialogue around sensitive issues like institutionalization. We are grateful to the Center for supporting this work and extend our congratulations to the 2020 grantees and Pew Fellows.”


Content will be curated by a cohort of community archivists from the disability community, with support from artists, historians and archivists. By sharing curatorial authority, the Institute hopes that participants will come to see archives as places where people with disabilities can counter feelings of marginalization by learning about themselves and their history.


The repository for all content will be a multi-sensory Story Wall, designed in partnership with The Wick Poetry Center. With interactive elements such as directional audio, capacitive touch screens, and infrared sensors, the Story Wall will deliver content in multiple layers and forms.


“It’s not our intention to present a comprehensive history of Pennhurst,” said Lisa Sonneborn, Director of Media Arts and Culture for the Institute on Disabilities. “Rather, we will tell a story rooted in a deeply personal understanding of the impact of institutionalization and the stigma often associated with disability.”


The Story Wall will premiere at the 23rd Street Armory in Philadelphia in October of 2022 and will travel to sites of civic importance in and beyond Pennsylvania. The Story Wall event will be fully accessible.


About the Partners

The Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, College of Education and Human Development

The Institute on Disabilities is Pennsylvania’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), one of 67 across the U.S.  The Institute trains, provides technical assistance and assistive technology, and engages in inclusionary research for Pennsylvanians with disabilities, their families, professionals and community organizations. Its Media Arts & Culture Programs create inclusive, welcoming and accessible cultural experiences for people with and without disabilities.


Wick Poetry Center at Kent State and Each+Every

The Wick Poetry Center and Each+Every are close partners in exploring and innovating at the intersection of expressive writing and design. Their collaboration over the past six years has produced human-centered digital experiences focused on poetry and creative response to multi-media source materials in both personal and exhibit contexts. The Wick Poetry Center and Each+Every recently deployed an interactive installation featuring a touchscreen application called the Listening Wall as a part of the Armed With Our Voices exhibit—a feature of the Kent State University May 4 50th Commemoration.


Reclaiming Our Past, Constructing Our Future: A Collaborative Exploration of the Pennhurst Archive is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is a multidisciplinary grantmaker and hub for knowledge-sharing, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, dedicated to fostering a vibrant cultural community in Greater Philadelphia. The Center invests in ambitious, imaginative, and catalytic work that showcases the region’s cultural vitality and enhances public life and engages in an exchange of ideas concerning artistic and interpretive practice with a broad network of cultural practitioners and leaders.


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