Kansas City Artist Uses Datasets to Explore Issues of Race and Class

August 2, 2015 12:00 pm PST | Open Data
Art of Data

We kicked off this “Art of Data” series with a post covering the opening of the exhibit in Kansas City, then followed up with a featured mother-daughter artistic team who managed to morph Kansas City’s budget into a masterstroke. Our last post focused on Anthony Schmeidler’s piece, which raised awareness on the city’s homicide rates. 

If you’re just joining us, the “Art of Data” exhibit in Kansas City asked area artists to choose datasets such as citizen satisfaction and economic impact of streetcars, and use them as inspiration for art. 

The artist at home
The artist at home

These data-viz creatives all have in common that they are capable of weaving data into something human, visceral, and provocative. Next up in our series: Lauren McGill, who used a dataset on life expectancy by zip code for inspiration.

Featured artist: Lauren McGill

Title: An Independent Investigation for the 82%

McGill’s chosen city dataset: Life Expectancy by Zip Code

In Lauren’s own words: I consider my studio practice to be a  platform for minority communities. I belong to some of the most disadvantaged populations in America: I am a Black, LGBT, female, artist. Statistically my chances of “success” in its most popular definition of the word are slim. In America success is defined by wealth, so our quality of life is dependent on our incomes. 

An Independent Investigation for the 82%
An Independent Investigation for the 82%

I chose to respond to the Life Expectancy by Zip Code map because it is a pointed example of class and racial division. The map exposes a direct relationship between race, income, and life expectancy in Kansas City. Considering the momentous social weight the map carries, I wonder how we can level the playing field. My hope is that this publication inspires creative/critical thinking, discussion, and immediate action.

While scrolling through the choices of charts to respond to it was only natural for me to choose the one that is a representation of myself as a resident, an artist, and a Black woman. While I do not live “in the pink” on the map, my income puts me within the category of a resident that has a low life expectancy. The communities with the lowest life expectancy are made up of primarily Black and Hispanic Residents.

I am telling this particular story because I feel that the Life Expectancy by Zip Code map exposes a racial and class division in Kansas City. The map represents a phenomenon that has taken place since Black people were freed from slavery only to face segregation and class division (slavery by a different name). The zine format is used as a way to critically analyze and compare the data in the map, present possible action plans to decreasing poverty, promote health and wellness, and provide residents with helpful resources.

Read more from the “Art of Data” series: Humanizing Data Through Art | Mother-Daughter Team Create Art from Kansas City’s Budget | Raising Awareness of a City’s Homicide Rate


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