The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced awards totaling more than $27.6 million on Dec. 8 in its first funding round for fiscal year 2016, including a Challenge America award of $10,000 to Northeastern Illinois University to support a visiting artist project at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Ill.
The project will include workshops, panel discussions, a guest lecture program and the creation of a collaborative work of art designed by incarcerated artists. The six-month program, with events inside the prison and in sites across Chicago, will begin in the second half of 2016.
Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP) has provided arts programming at Stateville since 2012. The project includes independent scholars and artists in addition to faculty from Northeastern, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and is housed at Northeastern.
“Many, including President Obama and Black Lives Matter activists, are asking Americans to rethink how the U.S. became the nation with the world’s largest prison population,” said Professor of Education and Women’s and Gender Studies Erica Meiners, who will work with Sarah Ross of SAIC and all of PNAP to shape the project. “Projects like PNAP ensure that the lives of people in maximum-security prisons, and their loved ones, are not left behind in this reform movement and invite us all to do the critical work of reimagining and redefining public safety beyond building prisons and hiring more police.”
Visual artists including Juan Chavez and Andres Hernandez will provide workshops for an incarcerated prison population, focusing on the theme of identity and place. Intended to serve prisoners and their families, the culminating art exhibitions will be displayed within the prison system and at Northeastern.
The Challenge America category of NEA grants supports projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics or disability. Challenge America grants are comparatively small investments that have a big impact in their communities.
“The arts are part of our everyday lives—no matter who you are or where you live—they have the power to transform individuals, spark economic vibrancy in communities, and transcend the boundaries across diverse sectors of society,” NEA Chairman Jane Chu said. “Supporting projects like the one from Northeastern Illinois University offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”