The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded an $873,000 grant to the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project (P+NAP). The Northeastern Illinois University Foundation will serve as the fiscal sponsor for the grant, which will be distributed over the next two years.
P+NAP offers more than 13 college-level courses a year, reaching approximately 120 people at Stateville Correctional Center. For the past 10 years, P+NAP has collaborated with artists and scholars, as well as other universities and nonprofit organizations, including the Poetry Foundation, University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies Erica Meiners is the grant’s project lead.
“This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project,” Meiners said. “This grant is recognition of our amazing collective labor and will help us to continue our work, which includes offering college-level classes at Stateville prison, organizing public events and exhibitions outside of the walls of Stateville. This award will allow a number of incarcerated people to earn an undergraduate degree through Northeastern.”
Meiners said the purpose of P+NAP is to facilitate collaborations between those inside and those outside of the prison.
“The name of the organization is a push toward reminding us all that the people who are locked up—roughly 40,000 in Illinois prisons and over two million people nationally—are part of communities,” Meiners said. “They are siblings, mothers, fathers. We connect scholars and artists to co-curate art exhibits and produce scholarship that aims to challenge mass incarceration and its false promise of public safety.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit prison populations hard and has impacted P+NAP’s work in a variety of ways, including halting in-person learning for the current cohort of students. However, Meiners hopes that once the virus is more under control, in-person classes can resume. Currently, students in the program are continuing their education through creative forms of correspondence courses in which educators and students share teaching and learning materials biweekly.
This award will also support formerly incarcerated students at Northeastern through stipends for books, learning materials and more. Other Northeastern students have previously been involved in the program as interns or supported P+NAP’s events and programming.
“The U.S. has the horrific distinction of having the world’s largest prison population, which has not translated into building strong and safer communities,” Meiners said. “Everyone should be troubled by that. It is especially important for public educational institutions to consider how to both account for those who have been harmed by mass incarceration and work to build more authentically safer communities.”
P+NAP is planning to roll out the grant with events later this spring. Events will be added to the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project calendar as they are solidified.