The Art for Justice Fund, the initiative founded by activist philanthropist Agnes Gund in 2017, today announced the launch of a new organization, the Center for Art & Advocacy. The new entity, made possible by a transformative grant from Art for Justice and by additional funding from the Mellon Foundation, will be led by formerly incarcerated artist Jesse Krimes. The Center for Art & Advocacy is charged with supporting previously imprisoned artists, picking up where the Art for Justice Fund leaves off when the latter ceases operations as planned later this year. The new center will open an exhibition space in Brooklyn this fall.
“The launch of the Center for Art & Advocacy marks a pivotal moment in the fight to end mass incarceration,” Gund said in a statement. “[We are] thrilled to support our partner’s evolution into a physical hub with expanded programming, all dedicated to transforming the criminal legal system through the arts.”
The initiative revolves around three core projects. The first of these is the Right of Return Fellowship, which Krimes and artist Russell Craig, himself formerly incarcerated, inaugurated in 2017. The fellowship is the first national program of its kind aimed at assisting those in creative professions who have been affected by the justice system. The second core project is an academy, which will provide non-monetary support to formerly incarcerated and emerging or developing writers, filmmakers, and artists. Last, there is a residency, which will be located in northeast Pennsylvania. Launching in 2024, that initiative will offer short- and long-term stays to program alumni and to recognized social justice advocates from across the country.
Gund in 2017 sold a $165 million Roy Lichtenstein painting that had hung over her mantel and used the proceeds to establish the Art for Justice Fund in an effort to reduce mass incarceration in the US and to reshape the criminal justice system through art. Since then, it has distributed millions of dollars, focusing variously on organizations and artists whose work is aimed at assisting women and children, keeping people out of jail and prison, shortening excessive prison sentences, improving reentry into the community, and changing narratives about criminal justice. “This is one thing I can do before I die,” said Gund. The philanthropist, who has six African American grandchildren, was motivated in part to start the initiative by a number of shootings by police of unarmed African American teens. Art for Justice was originally planned as a six-year initiative.
“I first imagined building a community of formerly incarcerated artists while I was isolated in a prison cell,” said Krimes in a statement. “In a nation with two million people behind bars, it’s abundantly clear how many talented artists are criminalized, incarcerated and locked out of creative opportunities. I’m profoundly grateful to the Art for Justice Fund and Agnes Gund for believing in the power of an artist-led movement and am honored to carry their legacy forward with the center’s work.”