Through the sharing of stories and resources, and by using the arts as a bridge between people inside and outside of prison, the Justice Arts Coalition (JAC) unites teaching artists, arts advocates, and currently and previously incarcerated artists and allies, harnessing the transformative power of the arts to reimagine justice. This work stems from the premise that art can serve as connective tissue, weaving its way back and forth through prison walls to foster and strengthen relationships between people inside and out. Art can remind us of our shared humanity, of our common struggles and sacrifices, and that every one of us has unique gifts and a unique story to share. To create a work of art, a song, a dance, or a poem within the barren confines of prison is truly a courageous and liberatory act—a reclaiming of identity, of possibility, of worth; a demand to be visible. JAC affirms, uplifts, and amplifies the voices of those who venture onto this path towards freedom.
JAC serves as a unifying body for those engaged in artmaking in and around carceral institutions across the US. We provide numerous opportunities for the nearly 400 incarcerated artists in our growing network to share their work both through our own platforms and by facilitating connections to opportunities offered by partner organizations such as Iron City Magazine, PEN America’s Prison Writing Program, and MoMA PS1.
JAC hosts exhibitions, online galleries, and ArtLinks events in which community members view new works by incarcerated artists and write letters to the artists sharing their reflections and feedback on the work. JAC also hosts an arts-focused correspondence program, the pARTner Project, through which incarcerated artists are paired with artists on the outside to exchange letters, creative works, sources of inspiration, and words of support and encouragement. JAC supports teaching artists and arts organizations that provide programs in prison by serving as a hub for resources, community building, and collective problem solving. This aspect of our work has been of particular importance during COVID-19, as all programming in prisons came to a halt with the start of the nationwide lockdowns. Arts program facilitators are in dire need of spaces in which they can join together to support each other and find ways of overcoming the obstacles preventing them from fulfilling their missions. JAC’s network also includes numerous family members and loved ones of incarcerated artists, as well as formerly incarcerated artists, many of whom connected with JAC while still inside.
Through the sharing of stories and resources, and by using the arts as a bridge…