New Fellowship Offers Grants for Previously Incarcerated Artists

By Sameer Rao Mar 24, 2017

Mass incarceration’s disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities continues well after people leave the penal system. Hiring bias prevents many people with criminal records from gaining employment, and the Sentencing Project reported in 2015 that nearly 60 percent of previously incarcerated individuals were unemployed a year after release. A new fellowship seeks to provide reentering artists with resources and opportunities to achieve stability and contribute to the art world.

Mic reported on the launch of the Right of Return USA Fellowship yesterday (March 23). The fellowship offers five artists a $10,000 prize and additional $10,000 for materials and production costs, as well as a three-day retreat with sessions on criminal justice reform and political art history. 

The Soze Agency, a Brooklyn-based creative agency focused on social justice campaigns, developed the fellowship with funding from The Open Philanthropy Project. It’s part of the agency’s broader Returning Citizens Project, which seeks to develop a network of formerly incarcerated creators and performers. "Artists have always been able to tap into something that is unique and vibrant," Soze Agency co-founder Michael Skolnik said in a statement to Mic. "Imagine what artists who have experienced incarceration have to share with the rest of the world."

"We firmly believe that formerly incarcerated individuals not only have a right to fully return to society, but can offer innovative solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our time," Philadelphia artists Jesse Krimes and Russell Craig wrote in a joint statement to Mic. Craig previously worked with the Returning Citizens Project to create and exhibit the self-portrait above, which was drawn on a canvas covered with his old prison documents and parole papers. He and Krimes are two of the fellowship’s inaugural recipients.

Interested and eligible individuals can apply here for one of the remaining three spots through April 21.