Through Envisioning Justice, Illinois Humanities partnered with Just Art, led by Hub Director Billy McGuinness, to expand Just Art’s existing programming in Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC).

About Just Art: Built around a weekly open studio art session, Just Art is not an educational or service effort, but rather a “social sculpture.” It is a long-term engagement with the Cook County Jail, wherein a group of people – artists currently being detained by Cook County, teaching artists, correctional officers, jail staff, and others – are collectively reimagining and reshaping the carceral experience at the largest single-site pre-detention facility in the United States.

Just Art provided two classes at the jail and, in partnership with SkyART, a third at Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, all centering the voices of the incarcerated to imagine and enact alternatives to our present system.” The three 10-week sessions culminated with Open Houses that provided the chance for the families of participating artists, fellow detainees, community members, staff members, and other stakeholders to collectively reflect upon possibilities for a more just system and to take action to realize them.

Partner Free Write Arts & Literacy, which facilitates programming at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC), held a class for the automatic transfer population who are moved from the JTDC upon their 18th birthdays.


Hub Staff/Organizers

Billy McGuinness, Hub Director

Billy is the Founder of Just Art, an open studio program at Cook County Jail, and a Lecturer at the School at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ryan Keesling

Ryan is Founder/Executive Director of Free Write. Since 2000, Ryan has been designing and implementing literacy and arts programming for youth in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

Supporting Organizations

Free Write Arts & Literacy

Free Write Arts & Literacy engages incarcerated and court-involved youth and young adults in the performing, visual, and literary arts so that they become the narrators of their own stories and the authors of their futures. By co-designing creative space with our students, Free Write supports them as they develop educational and career opportunities that reduce recidivism while also contributing to the public discourse around issues of youth incarceration.

By engaging in one-on-one literacy tutoring and workshops in creative writing, visual art, music production, and workforce development, Free Write students build competencies in reading and writing, art making, technical skills, community building, and critical thinking. Students hone and exemplify these skills through publication, exhibition, and performance opportunities in the detention center and in the community.

In the summer of 2000, Free Write began working one-on-one with incarcerated youth in hopes of improving their print literacy skills. The program readily expanded to include creative writing workshops, resulting in a densely packed and widely distributed anthology of student writing. In over 15 years of engagement, Free Write has published seven of these anthologies, several ‘zines, countless chapbooks by individual students, and much more.

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