The Liberated Arts Collective, 2016

The Liberated Arts Collective (LAC), formed in early 2016, is a collaboration between formerly incarcerated people serving term-to-life sentences, teachers, artists and writers. LAC members are invested in art as a tool for personal and community liberation, cultural expression and social change. Through art and radio journalism, LAC members shared their stories and wisdom with system-impacted high school students with an aim toward mentorship and guidance.

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Liberated Arts Class at Ella’s Foundation

 

At the time that The Liberated Arts Collective formed, many members had recently left prison and lived in transitional housing at Amity and Ella’s Foundation. We began meeting weekly for art-making and discussions in both locations.

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meeting at Amity to discuss the invitation to participate in Decolonize LA

Soon after, LAC members were given the opportunity to hold a roundtable discussion and art exhibition at Human Resources LA, as part of their Decolonize LA event. We planned an event called Window to the Inside, where LAC members had the opportunity to tell their stories, the impact of art-making in their own lives and how they had used art as a means of both coping and making money, throughout their time in prison.

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Liberated Arts Collective, speaking at Decolonize LA event at Human Resources

LAC members joined Veronique as assistant teachers of an Activist Media Class, at Youth Justice Coalition’s FREE LA High School. They simultaneously participated in a mentor-training class for Liberated Arts Collective members, so they could join the FREE LA classroom as Teaching Assistant/Mentors.

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Liberated Arts Collective member, Walter Wilson, leading a group of
FREE LA High School students in discussion at Chuco’s Justice Center

 

Liberated Arts members and FREE LA High School Students connected deeply. Some of these connections were documented through audio interviews, while others took the form of beautiful teaching moments in the classroom. During the summer of 2016, Kelly Hernandez organized an art program at Chuco’s Justice Center (Home of the Youth Justice Coalition) that served system-involved youth. Liberated Arts members Denis Durbin and Paul Macias stepped into leadership roles in this class, helping Kelly break the ice with students and keep them engaged throughout the class.

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FREE LA H.S. Student, interviewing a member of LA Brown Berets in front of LAPD Headquarters

This past summer, Liberated Arts Collective members produced a show at KCHUNG radio, called Real Facts: California State Prisons, From Those Who Made it Out. The show featured audio recorded through our class at FREE LA High School, as well as live discussion and answers to listener questions.

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Walter Wilson and Veronique, recording LAC’s first episode of Real Facts at KCHUNG radio.

Since the 2016 spring semester came to a close, all of the LAC members who were living at Amity Foundation have transitioned out. Many are living back at home with family, some are in other sober-living arrangements. Some members are in school, all have jobs and big plans for the future. Manuel and Walter have continued to work with The Youth Justice Coalition and FREE LA High School, I have continued to teach media classes to high school students and have begun running an art group at Ella’s Foundation, and we have plans to meet again as a collective in December to discuss future work.

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Liberated Arts Collective members at Chuco’s Justice Center/FREE LA High School

In October, I was asked to write a Blog reflecting on the founding, growth and current status of the Liberated Arts Collective, since it was founded earlier this year with the help of a SPART grant. This felt like an impossible task–to be the sole voice summarizing a collective process that grew organically, that deeply impacted the lives of each participant and that took on a new life with each new opportunity that was offered to us.

However, in the wake of the recent presidential election–that sent private prison stocks soaring 49% the following day–and state ballot measures that created parole opportunities for many inmates and guaranteed all youth a juvenile court hearing, now felt like a more important time than ever to reconnect with Liberated Arts Collective members and reflect on what we accomplished, where we are at, and how we’d like to continue. Following blog posts will contain edited transcripts of our most recent conversations and reflections.

 

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