Voices from Central State

Voices from Central State

Image: Riah in Blue, by Nanny Vonnegut

In 2016 I was Project Manager for “Voices from Central State, a series of public programs that spotlighted the patient perspective on life at Indiana’s flagship mental hospital (1848-1994). Bringing together public history and the arts, this series aimed to amplify marginalized voices and stimulate a discussion about mental health care in Indiana.

This project was the result of a partnership between the IUPUI Medical Humanities and Health Studies Program and the Indiana Medical History Museum (IMHM). All programs took place at the Indiana Medical History Museum. Funding support was provided by IU’s New Frontiers Program, Indiana Humanities, The Arts Council of Indianapolis, and the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute. Assistance with the theatrical production of “Then There Is No Need to Speak” was provided by Discover Near West Indys.


August 26 and 27, 2016, 7:00 pm both evenings

Then There Is No Need to Speak

A one-woman theatrical performance, based on the 1886 memoir From Under the Cloud by Anna Agnew, a former patient at the Indiana Hospital for the Insane.

Written by Thomas Hummel | Directed by Terri Bourus | Starring Denise Jaeckel |Historical commentary provided by Kathleen Brian


September 26 and 27, 2016, 6:00 both evenings

I Remember Jones: A Conversation with Nanny Vonnegut

The artist Nanny Vonnegut, daughter of the acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut, read her maternal grandmother Riah Cox’s brief memoir, “I Remember Jones,” written about Cox’s hospitalization at Central State in the 1940s.

Along with IUPUI professor of English Jane Schultz, Vonnegut discussed her family, the history of mental health care, and the healing power of the arts. Vonnegut shared some her own artwork, as well as family photographs.


November 10, 2016, 6:00 pm

Leaving Home

Exhibit opening and panel discussion on the closure of Indiana’s Central State Hospital in 1994 and the current state of mental health care in Central Indiana.

Panelists included  Alan Schmetzer (former Director and CEO of Midtown Community Mental Health Center) Ellen Dwyer (historian), Dr. Jeffrey Kellams (Midtown Community Health), and Marianne Halbert (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Former Central State Hospital speech and recreation therapists Bonnie O’Connor, Lisa Freeman, and Terry Duwe also discussed the creation of patient-produced newsletter The DDU Review.

This event was part of the 2016 Spirit & Place Festival.

The exhibit, based on patient-produced newsletters, was on display at the Indiana Medical History Museum from November 10, 2016-March 31 2017 and at the Indianapolis Central Library April 11-May 14, 2017.


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