All posts tagged: Sarah Ross

Free Write Arts & Literacy, and the Work of Justice Within (and Without) the Walls of Juvenile Justice

This project asked us to envision justice. It offered the arts as a lens. As I first began to wrap my mind around the Envisioning Justice initiative (“Bringing Chicago together to examine and reimagine the criminal justice system through a creative lens”), I entered a rabbit hole of unanswerable and annoyingly abstract questions, like, what is art? (Beauty? Truth? Life? Fantasy?) And, what is art for? (Self-expression? Transcendence? Joy? Education? Justice?) Can it really be for justice? And then, of course, what is justice? How does something as wishy-washy and abstract as art bear on something as heavy and real as incarceration? In the two articles I published previously for the Envisioning Justice writing residency, I included responses to the prompt, “How do you envision justice?” from two artists who have been working within Illinois jails and prisons for years. Both responses were not cynical, but rather the opposite; they were tired of the question. It’s the work, not the envisioning of the work, that needs to get done, they seemed to say. Here’s Sarah …

Teaching Classes Inside, Building Knowledge Outside: An Interview with Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project

The Illinois Department of Corrections is made up of 28 prisons that hold nearly 44,000 people. While the number of inmates has steadily increased since 2000, Illinois prisons followed a national trend in increasing sentence terms due to mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing laws. Alongside the trend towards longer sentencing, the 1994 Crime Bill Act eliminated low-income incarcerated people’s access to Pell Grants for higher education, dramatically decreasing the amount of educational programming in prisons. Amid instability and overcrowding, incarcerated people make art, get married, have children, and live entire lives that the outside world hears little about. Artist and instructor Sarah Ross taught Art History classes at Danville Correctional Center through a remaining community college program, where she met incarcerated artists, did critiques and put together shows for the outside. When she was asked to teach at Stateville Maximum Security Prison in 2011, that experience informed the values she brought in to her classes. Ross reached out to her networks to invite more people on as instructors to offer incarcerated people a range of educators and …

Whose Visions? Introducing the Envisioning Justice Residency

“On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It is difficult to imagine life without them. At the same time, there is reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, a fear of thinking about what happens inside them. Thus, the prison is present in our lives and, at the same time, it is absent from our lives.” -Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? Sitting in the heart of the Chicago South Loop is the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison less than a mile from Grant Park. Every day, thousands of people walking to work, class, the Art Institute, or even a festival like Lollapalooza are unknowingly passing 663 people awaiting trial or serving out their prison sentences. Envisioning Justice, a two-year initiative organized by Illinois Humanities, aims to spur a “citywide conversation about the impact of incarceration in local communities.” To this end, Envisioning Justice was awarded $1,500,000 by the MacArthur Foundation as part of its Safety and Justice Challenge, which “seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about …

You Can’t Draw Permanent Lines on the Ground in a Floodplain

Iron the common element of earth in rocks and freightersSault Sainte Marie—big boats coal-black and iron-ore-red topped with what white castlework  The waters working together internationally Gulls playing both sides –Lorine Niedecker From the poem “Lake Superior,” 1967 For the last twelve years, my professional and personal life has been split between the Midwest/Great Lakes metropolis of Chicago and Champaign-Urbana in the center of the state. The train I take between these two homes—on a rail line celebrated in folk-singer Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans”—passes through terrain covered by large, uniform fields of corn and soybeans. Cylindrical grain storage bins periodically rise out of the flat horizon like rockets that got stuck in a perpetual countdown, never to blast off. There are many readymade images that someone like me projects onto these scenes. One of the strongest being the pastoral image of productive family farmers, feeding America with sweat and basic technology; a Grant Wood painting, in 3D living color. After a couple of years of inhabiting and moving through this territory, the surface of …

Envisioning an Abolitionist Future

What would the world be like if we eliminated prisons, surveillance, and policing? What types of alternative methods can we seek to pursue justice? What systems can we set in place to encourage people to come clean about their wrongdoings? These questions are at the center of the prison industrial complex (PIC) abolition movement, which aims to dismantle violent systems founded on oppression and inequality, including imprisonment, surveillance, and policing. These questions are also ever-relevant in Chicago, a city with a long history of racist police violence. Do Not Resist? 100 Years of Chicago Police Violence, a recent community-based, artist-led multi-site exhibition that took place across Chicago at the Hairpin Arts Center, Roman Susan Gallery, Uri-Eichen Gallery, and Art In These Times, presented artworks that dealt with Chicago’s history of police violence. The artworks focused on specific victims and incidents of police violence, shifting the dialogue to question the PIC more universally. The final event of the exhibition-related programming, “The Aesthetics of Abolition in the 21st Century,” brought together Mariame Kaba and Sarah Ross to discuss the …