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Telling Stories About Louisville's Air Quality Through Art



A new project in Louisville aims to translate environmental data into information that residents can understand and use. It will create and install air quality sensors throughout the city, then incorporate the data from those monitors in a piece of public art.

Puneet Kishor is the manager of science and data policy for the San Francisco-based Creative Commons.

He said years ago, he was walking around his Northern Indian hometown, and saw a scrolling air quality display. It was heavy on acronyms, like NOx (nitrogen oxides), SOx (sulfur oxides) and PPM (parts per million).

“I was walking past and I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’m reasonably intelligent and fairly tech-minded and I have no clue what SoX, so many PPM means,’” Kishor said. “So, what’s the point in having this information which 100 percent of the people walking around cannot relate to at all?”

And the idea for this project was born. Through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and partnerships with local organizations—like the Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil and Metro Government—Kishor’s team will work to determine how the air quality data collected can have the greatest effect on Louisville residents.

“The idea here is to make the environmental conditions more relevant to people,” Kishor said, and through that, to empower people to improve air quality and their health.

The air quality sensors will be installed throughout the city, and the data they collect will be made available on an open platform. And then, the data will be fed live to some sort of art installation to tell a story about the city’s air quality.

Kishor and several designers from Brooklyn studio Urban Matter are in town to get public input on what Louisville residents would like to see. Specifically, Kishor said he’d like to know what words local residents use to describe air quality. The vocabulary that works in Cambridge or Seattle won’t necessary make sense here, he said.

“If the art installation is purely about art, then the artist does whatever the artist wants,” Kishor said. “But if the purpose of the art installation is to engage people and tell a story about the data, then we have to get the vocabulary right.”

The public meeting is Wednesday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Hard Scuffle Gallery (471 W. Main St., Suite 500).