Illinois Humanities today announced Envisioning Justice community grants totalling nearly $160,000 for arts and humanities programs in jails, prisons and detention centers. Sixteen groups and individuals from throughout Chicagoland with diverse backgrounds and creative expertise will receive funding for unique projects and communications efforts to better tell stories about policies and data that impact those both inside and outside the criminal justice system.

The grants and projects are part of Envisioning Justice, a two-year initiative by Illinois Humanities that seeks to strengthen efforts to reimagine our criminal legal system by fostering citywide conversations on incarceration from all perspectives.

“A main goal of the Envisioning Justice initiative is to establish collaborative partnerships with a diverse network of organizations throughout the Chicago-area to better amplify the work being done on many facets of criminal justice system reform,” said Angel Ysaguirre, Executive Director of Illinois Humanities. “By expanding the universe of groups working in this space to include many who will explore criminal justice issues for the first time, Envisioning Justice is adding fresh perspectives and innovative approaches that will enhance the larger conversation.”

The grants are divided into two categories: Arts & Incarceration Projects and Stories & Public Opinion Programs.

Arts & Incarceration projects will use the arts and humanities to creatively explore critical issues with people who are currently themselves involved in the criminal justice system.

Stories & Public Opinion programs will put narratives and information explaining aspects of the criminal justice system in front of the public, through visual arts, performance, and digital storytelling.

Envisioning Justice community grants were made possible thanks to initial support of the initiative from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge in the amount of $1.5 million.

Following are the organizations and individuals selected to receive this first round of community grants:

Arts & Incarceration Grantees

Piven Theatre Workshop is creating an ensemble play involving women in the EPIC program at Cook County Jail. ($6,994)

Reading Between the Lines will put funds toward an evaluation project at St. Leonard’s Ministries. ($7,500)

Young Chicago Authors plans to establish a Poetry Residency at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. ($8,000)

Fifth House Ensemble will invest in deep listening and graphic score composition activities at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. ($10,000)

ConTextos works almost exclusively with court-involved individuals at Cook County Jail, CPS alternative schools, workforce development and juvenile probation and will fund the “I’m an Author and I’m Incarcerated” program at the Cook County Jail. ($10,000)

Prison Neighborhood Arts Project will study and create works for the Citizen/Outsider project at Stateville prison. ($10,000)

Red Clay Dance Company will expand their Making the Artivist program, designed to empower youth at the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center to create positive change in systems and communities that aren’t equitable. ($10,000)

Literature for All of Us will grow their New Juvenile Justice Book Groups which invites participants to explore the transformative power of their own voices, helping to build resilience. ($7,500)

Free Write Arts & Literacy will utilize support to expand FWAL’s “Careers in the Arts Program” in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. ($10,000)

Stories & Public Opinion Grantees

Adler University will develop an interactive website to promote public dialogue for the “Prison Communities: From urban to rural and back” project involving the Austin neighborhood and Pontiac Correctional Center. ($10,000)

Rachel Wallis (individual): Wallis’ project, “Inheritance: Quilting Across Prison Walls” will tell the story of incarcerated mothers and the impact on their families. ($5,000)

Chicago Votes, through their CCJ Votes project, will tell the story of grassroots and advocacy efforts in Cook County Jail and in the Illinois State Assembly through video content creation and promotion. ($10,000)

StoryCorps will partner with four community organizations to create a Chicago Justice Project to record and preserve stories of individuals impacted by the CJ system, organize a large scale community listening event and provide training to help partner organizations continue to use stories to enrich their work. ($15,000)

Mikva Challenge will expand work being done by young members of their Juvenile Justice Council to provide audio-visual content chronicling their city-wide advocacy and policy-making efforts and connecting it to their personal stories. ($5,000)

Jessica Pupovac (individual), an award-winning freelance reporter, plans a “Women in Prison” series of data-driven, human stories that illustrate how women involved in the criminal justice system tend to be disproportionately punished, causing them to serve longer, harder time. ($5,000)  (@JesPup on Twitter)

The Chicago Justice Torture Memorial (CTJM) will put the grant toward supporting artists and torture survivors engaged in creating public memorials embodying the experiences of individuals while also incorporating feedback from the respective communities impacted. ($10,000)

Envisioning Justice is fortunate to count among their grant selection committee members individuals who could contribute dual perspectives as both well-regarded professionals currently working in the arts and humanities disciplines and individuals who have past experience with incarceration and the criminal justice system.

“These projects play an essential role in the Envisioning Justice initiative, in terms of its fulfilling its promise as a true city-wide discussion on the state of mass incarceration,” said Mark Hallett, program manager for grants and evaluation at Illinois Humanities. “We are thrilled with the quality of the projects we received in this first round and how they complement our other community-based explorations into the criminal justice system. These projects harness the creative power of theater, spoken word, literature, dance, and other art forms – along with basic democratic rights such as voting and dialogue, to engage us in better understanding the impact of over incarceration.”

There will be a second round of grants with an Oct. 15 deadline for projects in the Stories and Public Opinion category. In addition, there will be additional opportunities for groups to apply to host dialogues around the criminal justice system.

These microgrants, called Illinois Speaks “Justice Dialogues,” have deadlines of Sept. 15, 2018 and Feb. 15, 2019.  For more information, reach out to Mark Hallett at



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