JAC understands that creative expression is both a human need and a human right, and is essential to healing, reconciliation, and community-building. Further, JAC knows that engagement in the arts teaches self-discipline, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and concentration, and that the skills acquired through participation in the arts translate to other aspects of one’s life. Art is an individual expression of universal human experience, increases empathy and serves as a bridge between diverse groups. Participation in the artistic process significantly affects a person’s self-worth and sense of purpose and meaning, and shapes the ways in which we see ourselves and relate to each other. Therefore, JAC envisions a world in which the arts inform and play a leading role in our development of community-based responses to harm and conflict that promote safety, inclusion, connection, collaboration, healing, and accountability.
Through the sharing of resources, stories, and learning opportunities, JAC is building a nationwide collective of people who are committed to increasing opportunities for creative expression within the US criminal legal system, amplifying the voices of system-impacted artists, and reimagining justice through a creative lens.
JAC was initially formed in 2008 as the Prison Arts Coalition (PAC) ─ a grassroots, volunteer-led project -- by a group of veteran teaching artists seeking to create an online platform and resource for those working at the intersection of the arts and justice. Today a group of stakeholders is working to transform this informal coalition into a nonprofit to ensure the work continues and expands. Until February 2019, the site and the connected social media pages and email accounts were 100% volunteer-run, with JAC’s Managing Director serving as the point person. In addition to spearheading JAC’s development into a 501c3, the Managing Director has sustained this online presence, continuing to provide people with the kinds of information, resources, and connections that the PAC site became known for over its 11-year history. The public demand for the support and services provided through PAC, and now JAC, has grown significantly over the last two years. On any given day, JAC receives dozens of email inquiries from teaching artists, arts administrators, curators, family members and friends of incarcerated artists, researchers, educators, journalists, activists, and advocates, among others. Currently, JAC’s blog has almost 1000 followers, and our mailing list contains over 2500 names. Our social media following is equally significant, with 3500 followers on Facebook, 3000 on Twitter, and 1100 on Instagram. In May 2019, JAC launched a private Facebook discussion group where members of JAC’s network, especially formerly incarcerated artists, teaching artists, and incarcerated artists’ loved ones can share resources, experiences, challenges, ideas, and receive support. This new group already has 50 members. Inquiries from artists in prison have also significantly increased, with an average of over 20 letters per week arriving in JAC’s mailbox, and numerous requests for email communication via Corrlinks and JPay. In particular, incarcerated artists are interested in sharing their work in JAC’s online galleries, being connected to exhibition opportunities, and signing up for the pARTner project, an arts-focused pen pal program through which they can be paired with artists on the outside.
In response to needs expressed by its constituents in response to surveys, a 2016 feasibility study and informal communications, JAC will increase its off-line presence to provide trainings that deepen the skills and capacity of constituents, host conferences, and partner with organizations across the country to develop locally-focused initiatives. The transition from an understaffed but vibrant volunteer operation to a 501c3, non-profit organization with paid staff, will ensure that JAC continues to meet these needs.
JAC understands that creative…