Since 2017, when collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund sold Roy Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece (1962) for $165 million to start the Art for Justice Fund, the initiative has worked to raise awareness about the inequities in the US criminal justice system, change the discourse around mass incarceration, and to reform those systems through art.
Art for Justice, however, was always intended to be a focused project, with a deadline. (Initially, it was five years and later extended to six years.) Now, as the program begins to wrap up, it has given a grant for a large, undisclosed sum to the nascent Center for Art & Advocacy, an organization dedicated to helping artists who have been incarcerated or whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system that will in spirit serve as a successor to the Art for Justice Fund.
“Out of concern for the privacy of current and past awardees, particularly those who may be presently incarcerated, Art for Justice Fund is not disclosing award amounts for grant recipients,” the organization said in a statement.
Late last year, after US Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which effectively overturned the Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade that granted the right to an abortion, Gund sold another Lichtenstein, Mirror #5 (1970), during a Christie’s evening sale for $3.18 million. The proceeds of the sale were matched by Art for Justice and donated to the Groundswell Fund, a major funder of the Reproductive Justice Movement.
The new, artist-led, Center for Art & Advocacy, which is also funded by the Mellon Foundation, will consist of three programs: the Right of Return Fellowship, the Academy, and the Residency. The Fellowship, which gives six formerly incarcerated artists and creatives funding each year, was launched in 2017 as a separate endeavor by artists Jesse Krimes and Russell Craig, both of whom spent time in the criminal justice system. Krimes has also been named serve as the Center for Art & Advocacy’s inaugural executive director.
The Academy will serve as a school for writers, filmmakers, and artists, while the Residency will give alumni of the Center’s other programs, as well as social justice advocates from across the US, both short- and long-term stays at a forthcoming space in Northeast Pennsylvania.
“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 Center for Art & Advocacy will open its first location this fall in Brooklyn. Its board of directors will include Craig; Dwayne Betts, a poet, lawyer, and a past Right of Return fellow; artist Kate Capshaw; Kate Fowle, curatorial senior director at Hauser & Wirth; art collector and Brooklyn Museum trustee Stephanie Ingrassia; and Daveen Trentman, cofounder of the Soze Agency, which helped launch the Right of Return Fellowship with Krimes and Craig.
In a statement, Krimes said, “I first imagined building a community of formerly incarcerated artists while I was isolated in a prison cell. In a nation with 2 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.”