The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation today announced the launch of its Imagining Freedom initiative, a $125 million effort aimed at supporting artistic development among those negatively affected by the US carceral system. The multiyear grantmaking program will aid “arts and humanities organizations that engage the knowledge, critical thinking, and creativity of millions of people and communities with lived experience of the US criminal legal system and its pervasive forces of dehumanization, stereotyping, and silencing.” As noted by the foundation, the US imprisons more of its citizens than any other country in the world, with more than seventy million people arrested, prosecuted, or convicted. People of color suffer disproportionately under the American carceral system, with people of color making up half the currently incarcerated population, and Native people imprisoned at nearly four times the rate of white people.RelatedSFMOMA CUTS 20 JOBS AMID ATTENDANCE WOESJOE TILSON (1928–2023) “As artists, writers, and scholars working inside and outside of prison have long known, the arts and humanities uniquely and powerfully counter some of the most enduring, far-reaching, and least seen impacts of mass incarceration in our country and on its individuals and communities,” said Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander. “Through Imagining Freedom, we are supporting artistic, cultural, and humanistic work that centers the voices and knowledge of people directly affected by the carceral system—recognizing their full humanity, deepening our shared understanding of the system and its effects, catalyzing us to address the damage it causes, and envisioning and enacting just responses to harm.
We cannot understand who we are as a country if we don’t listen to all of the voices that make up our interdependent communities.” The Mellon Foundation to date has awarded roughly $41 million via the effort, which is part of its core Presidential Initiatives meant to foster critical thinking. Among the grant recipients thus far areMarking Time, the pathbreaking program established by Nicole Fleetwood that responds to the carceral system through art, and the Rikers Public Memory Project, which through arts projects and oral histories documents the experiences of Rikers prisoners and their families and friends. The most recent grantees include the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network, which assists former prisoners in attaining higher education, and the Jailhouse Lawyers Initiatives’ Flashlights Project, which supports a public digital archive chronicling the experiences of incarcerated justice advocates..