2022 was a year of significant growth for JAC, but it didn’t come without struggle. We felt stretched far beyond our capacity at times and had to get real about how much we could continue to say yes to. Settling into our first office space in Takoma Park, MD was a huge and vital step towards sustainability, and expanding our full-time staff has enabled us to dream bigger about future development. As the year draws to a close, we’re filled with gratitude for our dedicated team and network of supporters. The roots we are putting down now will surely help to nourish us for years to come.
Throughout the year, JAC found new ways to work in solidarity with and provide support to artists who are, or have been, imprisoned as we continued to widen our reach. More than 560 artists now make up our inside network and our team received and responded to more than 185 inquiries from artists who were new to us.
In 2022 we welcomed two new staff members, Erica, our Operations Director, and Clare (a former intern), our Program Assistant. A number of new interns joined our team in the Fall, while a few said goodbye after more than a year with JAC. None of this would have been possible without the work of our Founding Director, Wendy. We also want to give a special shout out to our incredible network of volunteers, including our Volunteer Coordinator, Jayme, and our Web/Fundraising team advisor, Robin, who offered up their time in 2022 to help us install exhibitions, move into our new office space, respond to mail, and assist with countless other projects.
Art + Agency, which began as a roundtable discussion between currently and previously incarcerated artists about the omnipresent risk of exploitation that they face when looking to market their creative work, thrived with funding from the Art for Justice Fund. Centering the experiences and leadership of artists with lived experience of incarceration, the Art + Agency program developed guiding principles which we hope will someday become the standard by which organizations, institutions, and individuals that exhibit, sell, and/or publish creative work by systems-impacted individuals hold themselves accountable. JAC’s partners Kamisha Thomas and Aimee Wissman of the Returning Artists Guild and Page Dukes of the Southern Center for Human Rights and Mourning Our Losses led the project and facilitated ongoing dialogue with a working group of artists in prison. Read more about this important initiative and the artists here.
Thanks to another grant through the Art for Justice Fund‘s Activating Art and Advocacy initiative, JAC teamed up with DC-based social impact production company Unchained Stories to bring their JUSTstories curriculum to our network. Through a series of workshops and labs offered on a virtual platform, JAC brought the program to a cohort of 8 artists. Over the course of the year, participants created short documentary videos introducing their stories and work. The program culminated in a film screening. The films each weave a narrative about the power of art and impacted voices to advance our collective goal to end mass incarceration. Read more about the JUSTstories project here.
Our CorrespondARTS program continued to expand this year, with distance learning packets now being sent to Howard County Detention Center. What began as a pilot at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women after the pandemic shut down all in-person programming in prisons, and was the first program of its kind in the state, will hopefully soon be pivoting to in-person classes. The program reflects JAC’s continuing commitment to ensuring that people in prison have access to opportunities for creative expression.
“I find that these exercises make it easier and easier to open up, and I actually end up feeling good when I’m finished. They’re very therapeutic…
I appreciate you guys and this program for giving me the opportunity to express myself and helping me to constructively pass the time in here. This is definitely something special that y’all got going. ”
-Erik, CorrespondARTS participant
JAC held over 28 virtual and in-person workshops in 2022 from creative workshops to film screenings and lecture discussions. Thank you to all who attended! If you’re interested in facilitating a workshop or presenting a discussion or performance through our Create + Connect series in 2023, please reach out!
This December, members of our team and volunteers hosted holiday card writing events across the country. They were a huge success, with over 550 letters sent to artists in prison around the country.
During the 2021 winter holidays, JAC interns created and sent out the first Inside Newsletter, a semi-annual bulletin featuring JAC highlights, artists, resources, and more. The newsletter is sent out to every artist in our network, nearly 600 people — and growing! 2022 saw the first full cycle of publishing a spring and fall edition.
Over 260 pairs of artists are currently corresponding through our pARTner project, which provides artists on the outside an opportunity to foster connection with artists in prison through the exchange of letters and creative works. We still have more than 100 inside artists waiting for a pARTner – please consider signing up if you are interested in corresponding with one of the artists in our network!
In addition to everything that JAC has been able to accomplish online and through the mail this year, we also hosted six in-person exhibitions! In April, JAC partnered with Busboys & Poets to open an exhibition at their Brookland location. The show featured creative works by four artists in JAC’s network with ties to the DMV area: Conor Broderick, Harry Ellis, Greg Bolden, and Marcus Pettiford. In April JAC volunteer Christine Hippeli opened “Blooming in the Desert: Reimagining Justice” at LionheART Gallery in Bridgeport, CT. The exhibition featured a diverse collection of work from JAC’s community of currently and formerly incarcerated artists, highlighting a wide variety of mediums, subject matter, and strength of voice.
“Degrees of Separation,” which opened in May at Baltimore County Arts Guild, explored the relationship that proximity and spatial relation have with an individual’s ability to understand, experience, and engage. Just as physical distance changes one’s perspective of artwork, so too is one’s understanding of the carceral system shaped by proximity to those impacted by the system. Utilizing the gallery’s unique space, the exhibit challenged each viewer’s engagement with the art.
In June, “Sotto Voce” opened at York & Penn Art Gallery in Towson, MD. The largest and most ambitious exhibition JAC has produced, “Sotto Voce” featured over 100 works of art by artists confined to prisons across the United States. In an environment that increasingly calls for a radical re-envisioning of our country’s justice system, the exhibition highlighted creative expression both as a human need and a human right, one essential to healing, reconciliation, and community building.
“Emergence” opened in July at Workhouse Arts Center, bearing witness to Workhouse’s past as a former prison and to the current state of the carceral system in the U.S. Through the works of over 30 artists, this exhibition asked viewers to explore and question the circumstances in which both the venue and the artworks were made, and to consider what is possible by reclaiming a space created for captivity and transforming it into a place of creative possibilities.
Lastly, in August JAC was proud to present “A Little More, While I Can” in partnership with York & Penn Art Gallery. A solo exhibition by network artist William B. Livingston III, the show marked the launch of Livingston’s new book, “Live from the Cell Block: Will Livingston and His Silk Screen Machine.” Best-known for his concert poster prints created on a hand-built silk screen machine, “A Little More, While I Can” highlighted another inspiring body of Livingston’s work, his vast repertoire of acrylic works.
Over the course of the year we’ve also been thrilled to facilitate opportunities for dozens of artists to have their work exhibited and published through numerous partner organizations including Marking Time, Scalawag Magazine, Iron City Magazine, and PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Program.
Here are some of our art picks for 2022:
Realizing the value of in-person spaces to foster connection with each other and artists in JAC’s network, one of our biggest accomplishments this year was getting a physical space to ground ourselves in! While we’re still settling in, it’s been a joy to start welcoming volunteers and team members to our new offices and gallery, allowing us to more easily work together and ensure that our many programs run even more smoothly. We look forward to making the new space feel like home in the new year.
We made big strides in 2022 and are closing out the year with much to celebrate and be grateful for, especially your support. Please consider investing in our ongoing growth and starting the year with a contribution. Your support helps to ensure that we can continue providing our community with opportunities for creative expression, connection, and learning. There are a lot of exciting new developments on the way, and we can’t wait to share them with you. Please consider donating either monthly or one-time to celebrate what we’ve accomplished, and to ring in 2023!