Art For Justice: A Legacy of Art Grants To Combat Criminal Justice
By Ada Kalu
June 23, 2023
June 30th marks the end of the Art for Justice Fund, a time-limited fund that supports artists and advocates who share its mission of combating mass incarceration through their work. Over the course of its existence, recipients have ranged from mass organizations including the MOMA PS1 and the Brooklyn Museum to individual grantees with specific focuses on varying sectors of criminal justice and mass incarceration. As the fund comes to an end, it leaves a $125 million legacy and has supported over 200 individual artists with more than 400 grants across its 6 years.
The end of A4J’s fund does not mean the end of its work. The mere act of community means shouldered and shared responsibility and care among many and not just a few. In centering artist works and the vast ways mass incarceration impacts and undervalues the lives of Black, Brown, queer and disabled lives, A4J has created space for other organizations to carry on their work. An example includes The Center for Art & Advocacy, a result of the Right of Return Fellowship, and recently launched with the support of A4J.
A4J particularly stands out in its proof and investment in art and creative workers. As more and more funding and access to arts spaces diminish, creative works and living are largely afforded by the super wealthy. This in turn extends itself to the kind of art being made and the commentary, role and right to access in its production. As mentioned earlier, art is functional and exists not as a frivolity but a necessity. In honor of A4J, I spoke to 4 grantees both previous and new about their work and what the grant has meant to them.
Beverly Price (she / her)
A Spring 2023 grantee, Beverly Price is a D.C based photographer whose work explores social commentary and the identities with Black and Brown communities. They use their photographs to give voice to their community and the youth that exist in proximity.
Q:Your work documents Black and Brown communities. As a photographer and youth advocate and grant recipient, what’s next?
BP: Over the past seven years, I have produced and exhibited my photo projects using my limited personal funds. The funding from the A4J helps me embrace being a full-time artist and invest in my work productivity. So, what’s next for me is a much-needed vacation, getting my first studio space, hiring an assistant/archivist to help me organize, edit, and digitize my extensive body of analog work, and later producing a quality photo book. I also look forward to photography taking me on an unplanned journey while staying consistent with my soul’s purpose of telling the stories that many today are afraid to address.
Faylita Hicks (they/ them)
Hicks is a queer Afro-Latinx writer, multidiciplinary artist and activist. A Right of Return fellow and member of the Center for Art and Advocacy, they advocate for the experiences of Black and Indigenous people especially at the intersection of LGBTQIA+ rights.
Q: You sit at the intersection of multiple experiences and identities. In advocating for your rights and the rights of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people, how has the fund helped your practice?
FH: Working at the intersection of arts and social justice, my goal has always been to advocate for our rights as BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people to exist AND thrive. After decades of hustling, I can offer my contractors, collaborators, producers, and artists an equitable fee instead of offering them exposure for their work.
After receiving the grant, I’m most proud of the apartment I could afford in Chicago, which I call The Haus of Alignment. I’ve designed it to be the healing creative studio I’ve always dreamed of. I’ve been using it to write my next two books and I plan on offering it to other writers and artists looking for equitable and inclusive short-term arts residency options in the coming years. I’ve already started setting up touring artists in the studio whenever they come to town.
It’s the freedom to dream bigger that A4J really gave me as a grantee. It’s hard to think about healing from legislative and police violence as a previously incarcerated artist when you don’t even have a roof over your head or access to the tools you need to get your message out there. I now have both–and I plan on helping others get the same via my position at The Center for Art & Advocacy. As the legacy of A4J, The Center has the rare opportunity to transform the lives of thousands of artists, from every discipline, by lifting up the voices and work of the people most often targeted by legislative violence–directly-impacted people, many of whom are BIPOC and LGBTQIA+. From helping individuals find funding to providing the curriculum, space, and time needed to develop their craft, The Center will change how we think about artist sustainability and, hopefully, the carceral system as a whole. To be at the forefront of something so necessary is both wild and humbling.
Right of Return Fellow Faylita Hicks at the 2022 Right of Return Retreat in Arizona.
Photo credit: Maurice Sartirana, courtesy of the Center for Art & Advocacy.
Tameca Cole (she / her)
Cole, a past recipient, was supported through 2020 and 2021 through an organizational grant to MoMA PS1 where their work, Marking Time has featured. Her art focuses extensively on the U.S prison system and the ways its injustice and intersection with racism affects incarcerated and non – incarcerated peoples.
Q: You were a grantee across 2020 and 2021 and have continued to interrogate the criminal justice system. How has the A4J grant supported the development of your practice?
TC: A4J is a great organization and a well-put-together network of artists and activists. It has provided resources on every level which have been crucial to both my growth and expansion. Their support enabled me to have the time and quiet space to shape my artistic vision. People need time to process everyday life and new experiences to grow as an artist. I use my creative spaces to challenge myself to do better and be better. That’s my contribution to humankind.
Michelle Browder (she / her)
A Spring 2023 grantee andAlabama based artist and activist, Browder runs an outreach program that serves as an intervention and prevention initiative. Their Mothers of Gynecology monument recognizes the erasure of the Black women’s pain in medical advancement. She has recently acquired the space once owned by Sims and hopes to transform it into a Health and Wellness Museum and Clinic for uninsured women, medical practitioners and doulas.
Q: Your Mothers of Gynecology monument was launched last year and you’re in the final cohort of A4J’s grant as it comes to an end. As an activist and artist, what does this grant mean to you?
MB: I am a social entrepreneur, a creative activist and fierce lover of history. For years I‘ve created multiple social businesses to fund community efforts to create social change. To receive this grant when I need most to support maternal health projects in my state of Alabama, support formerly incarcerated women in dire need of aftercare and support, this grant means freedom, it means saving lives and it means education.
This grant will help support the More Up Campus Program: We Create Change Alabama Initiative that I started in 2020 to provide therapy for formerly incarcerated persons, families suffering trauma from gun related violence, and support local artists to discover the power of the brush on social injustice related issues. Ex-offenders face a great deal of stigma and other barriers to re-entering society. It can be difficult to find a job and a place to live and to feel like a valuable part of the community again. Emotional and mental health treatment is also a key element of successful rehabilitation. We promote the use of art therapy and object handling as part of this treatment and WCCA provides an opportunity for participants to engage with the arts and cultural heritage.
More Up Campus/WCCA provides a curated museum space to display social justice art by formerly incarcerated artists and resident artists. We also support newly parolees providing three months of transitional housing for persons needing support. This program began in May of 2020 and will continue offering art therapy and housing until June 2024. This summer (2023), More Up Campus/WCCA will welcome two resident artists to We Create Change House to work alongside formerly incarcerated communities.
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