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Press Release

Illinois Humanities Launches Envisioning Justice

A citywide conversation about the impact of incarceration on Chicago's communities

Apr. 3, 2018 / PRZen / CHICAGO -- Illinois Humanities today announced the launch of Envisioning Justice, a two-year initiative for the people of Chicago that will use arts and humanities programs to engage residents from every neighborhood, race, ethnicity, background and ideology in a citywide conversation about the impact of incarceration on local communities and to devise strategies for lessening this impact.

Representatives from Illinois Humanities and Envisioning Justice partners gathered at historic Roberts Temple (the site of Emmett Till's 1955 funeral) on the city's south side to announce upcoming events, including community arts projects, open houses and monthly conversations. Envisioning Justice events will be held downtown and in Chicago neighborhoods thanks to partnerships with civic and community organizations, and initial support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge.

"Illinois Humanities is honored to partner with so many generous and impressive leaders, organizations, and funders to address one of the most pressing issues of our time. Their commitment to addressing the problem of over-incarceration is inspiring. We know that the humanities and arts will serve as unique and powerful tools for Chicagoans to create solutions to the problem and strengthen the network of people and organizations doing so," said Angel Ysaguirre, Executive Director of Illinois Humanities.

At the heart of the Envisioning Justice initiative are five Chicago communities directly affected by incarceration, Bronzeville, Back of the Yards, Little Village, North Lawndale, Rogers Park and Cook County Jail and the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Envisioning Justice has partnered with community-based organizations across the city, referred to as "hubs," to create arts-education and community-discussion programs that promote creative solutions by Chicagoans to the negative impacts of incarceration.

Each Envisioning Justice hub is offering arts classes and public humanities programs within their respective communities to explore questions, imagine solutions and alternatives to the problems inherent in the criminal justice system.  Methods of exploration are as different as each community, with some using hip hop peace circles, visual arts or painting as their vehicle, while others prefer storytelling performances, writing classes and multimedia collaborative art projects.

Envisioning Justice Hubs

Back of the Yards
The #BreathingRoom Space, operated by the #LetUsBreathe Collective, is a Black-led liberation hub for arts, organizing, and healing on Chicago's South Side. Imagining a world without prisons and police is the creative lens that will inform the Envisioning Justice programming in the Back of the Yards community. Hub Director: Kristiana Rae Colón

Bright Star Community Outreach will coordinate programming in conjunction with its existing community advocacy and partnerships - aimed at addressing youth trauma, mental health, and violence in the Bronzeville community. Hub Director: Nichole Carter

Little Village
OPEN Center for the Arts anchors Envisioning Justice's programming in La Villita and will work with a variety of community groups and members to support arts education which will in part focus on the local impact of the current immigration and deportation systems. Hub Director: Antonio Ancona

North Lawndale
BBF Family Services, with support from Urban Gateways, is directing Envisioning Justice in North Lawndale. Throughout the initiative, BBF will focus its arts and humanities programming on restorative justice and re-entry back into the community. Hub Director: Jeramey Winfield

Rogers Park
Circles & Ciphers is a hip-hop infused restorative justice organization led by and for young people impacted by violence. The Rogers Park hub's method of bringing traditional peace circles, hip-hop music and art together will be at the core of Envisioning Justice programming. Hub Director: AnnMarie Brown

Cook County Department of Corrections and Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center
Through Envisioning Justice, Illinois Humanities has partnered with Hub Directors Ryan Keesling (of Free Write Arts & Literacy) and Billy McGuinness (of SkyART and Just Art) to expand upon their organizations' long-standing arts programming in both the Cook County Jail and the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

"At a time of historic divisiveness, we need to hear from individuals and communities directly affected by the justice system," said Julia Stasch, president of the MacArthur Foundation. "Envisioning Justice will communicate the value of their lived experience and concrete visions for a more just system, with a goal of informing plans for reform that will help repair relations with Chicago communities and restore confidence in the legitimacy of public institutions."

Throughout May 2018, each of the five neighborhood hubs will host open house events, produced by participants and community members specifically to bring Chicagoans from all areas and walks of life to the same table. Artwork created during Envisioning Justice programs will be displayed and live performances will be featured. Round table conversations will be opened to visitors and each hub will share how they approached the Envisioning Justice mission.  Visit for the latest information on programs and events.

"Envisioning Justice is about completing the circuit between Chicago's artist, activist and Community scenes. Everyone from experts to regular citizens, without exception, should be discussing the impacts and realities of the criminal justice system," said J. Slater, Artistic Project Manager for Envisioning Justice.  "We need to connect local communities in Chicagoland together on the issues of incarceration in a different way. The world needs an update, Chicago needs an update and Envisioning Justice is a platform for voices from every view point to be amplified and heard."

The first large-scale public event in the Envisioning Justice series, a panel discussion presented by Illinois Humanities and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), will be held on April 4 and sold out with over 1500 RSVPs. "Redesigning the System: How Artists, Policymakers, and Practitioners Are Shaping Criminal Justice Reform" will explore the role of art and design in humanizing mass incarceration, strategies for reducing the number of Americans caught up in the criminal justice system, and the possibilities and restrictions of reform.

To complement the arts education and community dialogues at the hubs, Envisioning Justice will offer:
  • Citywide Grants: for arts and humanities programs in jails and prisons, for communications efforts to better tell stories about policy and data, and for community-led discussions.
  • Multimedia journalism and documentation of Envisioning Justice activities.
  • A humanities education course for high school youth.
  • Final exhibition including six artist commissions, community artwork from the seven hubs, and other relevant works.
About Envisioning Justice: Created and facilitated by Illinois Humanities, Envisioning Justice will engage Chicagoans, of all neighborhoods, races, socio-economic backgrounds, and with a diversity of perspectives, in a citywide conversation about the impact of incarceration in local communities and will invite residents to use the arts and humanities to devise strategies for lessening this impact. Envisioning Justice seeks to strengthen efforts to reimagine our criminal legal system and is inspired by the goals of justice, accountability, safety, support, and restoration for all people.  Follow #Envisioning Justice at @EnvisioningJustice on Facebook and @envisionjustice on Twitter.

About Illinois Humanities: Our mission is to strengthen the social, political and economic fabric of Illinois through constructive conversation and community engagement.

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Source: Kitty Kurth

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