What men at Rikers think of the NYC Contemporary Artworld
They want in! They need to know though: Where is it and how do they get access? They've heard it's a place to be yourself and that there's opportunity.
Good question, guys. There's no place for you - yet.
On May 9, 2017, I started Oppression, Expression, Profession: The New York Contemporary Artworld, a class at Rikers to show these men a future they wished they'd known as boys. We got a few guys from Sunset Park, more from the Bronx and the rest from hoods I'd never heard of. Looks like both sides knew where the line was drawn. Despite their place in life, and right now that was on child-sized bright blue chairs they'd set up without delay in the gym, their eyes burned curiosity, a desire to know the world from a different framework.
We started basic. Before we met, and in order to gauge their industriousness, I gave Adult Programming an art exercise prompt for my class: Using the letters of your name, draw what your name means now you're incarcerated. It's hard to explain how much this question meant, or would have meant to them 10 years ago if asked; it's the art that testifies. Godwin jumped to the front with me, brandishing proof of significance and a story to tell about this drawing - he's the third Godwin, and in his family it means God has your back and the wind is in your favor. Jerome incorporated ink pots and unfurled his name on an ancient scroll. He says he's a young man with an old soul, and notes he will be released soon.
That's right, Godwin, Jerome, Jayro, Aldo, Brian and all the others won't be incarcerated forever. They are sentenced to a year or less. Are we going to let them think lines can't be redrawn? Reframe is a Jobs in Art initiative, to place released participants with meaningful work in shipping, rigging, crating, framing, art handling, lighting, and installation. These men are ready to handle art, can we handle it?
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For more information about Reframe, the advisory board, partnership and Sponsor-a-Job opportunities, contact firstname.lastname@example.org