Illinois Humanities today announced its second round of Envisioning Justice community grants totaling $68,000 for arts and humanities programs across the city to use the arts to discuss over-incarceration.  Eight groups and individuals will receive funding for stories and public dialogue programs that will connect the public to narratives and information explaining aspects of the criminal justice system, using visual arts, performance, and digital storytelling.

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.

Artist and policy advocate Laurie Jo Reynolds, along with a team of collaborators, are receiving funding for the “True Person of No Status” audio project. This project will harness storytelling to document and describe the impact of public conviction registries, public exclusion zones, and housing banishment laws – policies Reynolds says are largely invisible to the public.

“Those on the team experiencing homelessness will walk us through these policies, and how they push families into homelessness, unemployment, and family separation,” Reynolds says. “It will also help make clear that people on registries do their best to lead positive and productive lives, and the state is not helping.”

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Joshua Jackson is receiving funding to produce a series of six 10-minute videos called “From Prisoner to Professional.” The goal is to tell the stories of formerly incarcerated people who have successfully transitioned into respected professions, while combating the stereotypes associated with ex-convicts.

“The overall goal for this series is to go against how we, as a society, look at returning citizens and how currently incarcerated people see themselves after their release,’ says Jackson. “Support from Illinois Humanities makes it so much easier to bring this project to life.”

The six other grant recipients are:

  • Storycatchers Theatre is expanding a partnership with its “Changing Voices” program and the Chicago Police Department to generate dialogue between police recruits and young people navigating reentry to high-crime neighborhoods.
  • Juvenile Justice Initiative, a statewide policy advocacy center focusing on reducing incarceration and ensuring fair treatment for children and emerging adults in conflict with the law, is creating “Reimagine Youth Adult Justice,” an informational video and graphic to inspire people to reimagine current systems.
  • Chicago Community Bond Fund will create short films and animated videos that highlight the voices of people impacted by pretrial incarceration to build awareness on the harms of pretrial incarceration and create dialogue about the relationship between bail reform and public safety in communities beyond Cook County.
  • Read/Write Library is creating a series of “Incarceration and Information” pop-up libraries featuring content produced by incarcerated people to engage Chicago communities who don’t perceive themselves as being affected by incarceration and demonstrate how vital forms of communication — letters, books, political expression — are controlled and increasingly threatened in carceral spaces and what effects these policies have on incarcerated individuals, as well as the disconnection it causes in the greater community.
  • Voices & Faces Project is an award-winning nonprofit storytelling initiative created to bring the names, faces and testimonies of survivors of gender-based violence and other human rights violations to the attention of the public. “Testimony and Transformation”, a testimonial writing workshop, will work with previously incarcerated Chicago men seeking to use their stories to change the public understanding of incarceration.
  • Victory Gardens Theater will produce “Pipeline”, a play by newly named MacArthur Fellow Dominique Morisseau about the school-to-prison pipeline that ensnares far too many black and brown youth, and host series of free public programs, coupled with online resources, to explore the social justice issues foregrounded in the play.

“We’re thrilled with the breadth of this round of projects,” said Mark Hallett, program manager for grants and evaluation at Illinois Humanities. “Harnessing theater, video storytelling, workshops, and other forms of engagement, they collectively explore with audiences the bond system, youth incarceration, re-entry, gender-based violence and public conviction registries. In terms of audiences, these projects will reach people who themselves have been court-involved as well as those who think of these as distant issues they have little to do with.”

The first round of grant-making awarded $160,000 to 16 organizations, for stories and public opinion programs, and for arts & incarceration projects, which used the arts and humanities to creatively explore critical issues with people who are currently involved in the criminal justice system.

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