Weill Music Institute and Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network Launch Creative Justice Program

Mike Lawson • News • July 6, 2017

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Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) and the Los Angeles-based Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) gathered more than 150 leaders this spring to launch Create Justice: A National Discussion on Arts and Youth Justice, a new national initiative that focuses on the intersection of arts and youth justice.

This new program aims to create a national network of arts and justice leaders who can empower the country’s most at-risk youth to reach their full potential through opportunities in the arts. These leaders will meet twice more in the next year: September 25-26, 2017 in Los Angeles, followed by the final forum in New York City from March 11-13, 2018.

“The arts are about inclusion, connection, and community,” said Sarah Johnson, director of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. “We have seen firsthand the transformative power of the arts in the lives of youth involved in our programs. The arts provide a unique opportunity for nurturing talents and creative expression and provide pathways for youth to work toward personal goals and reach their potential.”

“We believe arts are uniquely positioned to strengthen young people, create pathways for youth success, and catalyze systems change. Arts should be valued as foundational to investing in youth wellbeing,” said Kaile Shilling, executive director of Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network. “It’s quite radical that both venerable and grassroots arts organizations across the country are addressing youth justice issues as part of their core mission. The consensus among the diverse cross-section of participants — including probation representatives — who attended the first Create Justice forum in March was very clear that a punitive approach that incarcerates our youth is less productive than providing arts as access points, and this is where we want to invest our time.”

“The cost to incarcerate a young person in California is $200,000 per year and in New York the cost is $350,000 per year,” added Shilling. “In that context, it inspires us even further to invest in our youth by focusing on education, increasing access to the arts, and transforming the juvenile justice system.”

The program recognizes and takes into account the fact that the United States incarcerates more children than any other country, and that about 95% of these children are arrested or detained for non-violent crimes that have lifelong consequences.

 “As a nation that values our young people, there’s too much at stake to not consider creative solutions that forge a more positive path for our kids,” said Johnson. “As members of a broader cultural community, we all have an important role to play.”

Participants at the Creative Justice forum this spring included artists, policymakers, funders, activists, researchers, and leaders from non-profit organizations and government agencies. A series of talks by featured guest speakers, panel discussions, and group conversations looked at how we can help youth succeed through the arts after being arrested or detained.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Chief of Program and Pedagogy at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, led part of the discussion and facilitated cross-sector conversations to brainstorm ideas and collective impact strategies to support young people with the arts. In addition, New York City government and non-profit leaders shared best practices, and participants had the opportunity to highlight current efforts for young people in cities around the country.

“Through the series of three forums, we’re engaging a network of artists and professionals with a deep reservoir of expertise and inviting them to brainstorm around questions and to think collaboratively and strategically as we work together to develop a collective plan,” said Johnson. “The approach we’re taking with the Create Justice initiative might be considered a different way of doing things,” Johnson added. “We’re not coming in with a set of solutions or programs. Inquiry is a big piece of artistry and leading with inquiry creates a more inclusive platform, grounded in arts practice, to move forward as we look at these issues together.”


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