Our guest blogger is Angela Leech, an Australian Fulbright Scholar completing a master’s degree in Peace and Justice at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego. Ange is an educator and multimedia artist who teaches in prisons. Here she shares a fascinating blog about the key role the arts can play in justice reform.
As part of my Master’s Program in Peace and Justice at the Joan B Kroc School of Peace Studies, I had the opportunity to collaborate with artist and educator Gregory Sale from Arizona State University and a cohort of artists and justice advocates from the Future IDs project.
Future IDs is a collaborative, socially engaged art project that combines workshops, educational and public programming, justice reform and advocacy, with the objective of creating a platform for concerned communities to come together and address the challenges of mass incarceration in the United States.
Socially engaged art is a growing area of arts practice in which artists collaborate with individuals and communities on aesthetic responses to social challenges. Socially engaged art has less emphasis on the artists as an individual and focuses more on collective benefits and social outcomes.
As an educator and multimedia artist who works within the prisons in Australia, the questions and concerns embedded in Future IDs are at the core of my own academic and professional pursuits. My research goals include gaining the knowledge and skills to develop effective ways to work with those at risk of being negatively impacted by the justice system. To achieve this goal, I aim to develop frameworks that provide individuals more control over their rehabilitation and re-entry to the community.
The Future IDs project was collaboratively conceived by individuals with conviction histories working closely with lead artist Gregory Sale. As the project developed, a cohort of core-project collaborators–Dr. Luis Garcia, Kirn Kim, Sabrina Reid and Jessica Tully–came together with Sale to present the year-long exhibition and programmatic series on Alcatraz Island, the infamous prison turned national park in San Francisco Bay. A guiding principle of Future IDs is to place those most impacted by the justice system at the center of the creative process. This methodology ensures the project will have relevance for those who it most aims to serve.
At its core, Future IDs is an invitation for system-impacted individuals to participate in an artistic process as they conceive and develop a vision for their future self. This vision is then translated into an identity-card inspired artwork. It is self-authorized and self-determined.
Future IDs project collaborator Kirn Kim invites and challenges prospective participants to take part in the artistic process: “If you don’t have a goal to strive for, then where’s your focus? You are going to go home eventually. What do you want to be when you get out? That’s what it is. For too long the inmate ID is what defined us. You are here to write your future: what you’re going to build your legacy toward. So, what ID do you want?”
The project contains collective and individual objectives and outcomes. To understand the full breadth of the project, I will compartmentalize elements of the project into past, present and future, as a means to demonstrate its strength, progression and reach.
Future IDs started with Professor Gregory Sale and a group of committed system-involved advocates who shared the belief that ‘cultural problems demand cultural solutions.’ To achieve this, the group aimed to translate criminal justice reform advocacy into a visual arts language that could offer and change the narrative of re-entry and reintegration back into society after incarceration. Over 5 years, the multifaceted initiative came into fruition as Future IDs at Alcatraz (2018-2019), a year-long exhibition, where mural-sized, ID inspired artworks were exhibited in combination with a series of workshops and monthly programs that engaged justice system-impacted individuals, community organizations, and the general public.
This exhibition was presented in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) and its non-profit affiliate the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The project helped activate Alcatraz Island as a platform for system-impacted individuals and communities to have their stories heard. Over 200,000 people visited the project and participated in a range of conversations that raised public awareness about mass incarceration in the United States, helping change the negative public perceptions of those returning from prison.
Image above: Personalized ID created by Dr. Luis Garcia as a participant in the Future IDs at Alcatraz project. Courtesy artist.
Alcatraz was an ideal location for this process to take place, as the island has a layered history with human rights issues. Originally it was one of the most feared prisons in the country, then in the 1960s became the site that birthed the Red Power movement. On multiple occasions between 1964 and 1969, it was occupied by Native Americans who were protesting against the disposition of their land. Since 1972, Alcatraz has operated as a National Park in what could be interpreted as a glorification of incarceration and dark tourism. In 2014, a turning point came for NPS when Alcatraz was designated a member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. NPS aims to extend beyond a limited, one-size-fits-all tourist experience, to become a site that engages communities to cultivate social change. Shared objectives between NPS and Future IDs enhanced the relevance and site-specific nature of the year-long project.
Being fortunate enough to visit the exhibition myself and to participate in the Art and Justice Summit, I found the island’s desolate environment amplified the power and meaning of the individual artworks. Each work told the unique story of an individual’s dream and what they perceived their future could be. Project collaborator Sabrina Reid explains the impact of what making a Future ID can mean to someone leaving prison.
“Everyone deserves to dream about what they want in life. But for many of us who return to life after incarceration, it can feel like dreaming is a privilege for others. For me, the power of this project is the license it has given me to dream again, the space it holds for contemplation and moving towards fuller humanity and citizenship.” 
On the third Saturday of each month, Future IDs offered a full day of community programs, workshops, discussions, and performances that were co-designed with justice-based community organizations. These activities pushed the boundaries of the standard functions of NPS, demonstrating that national parks could be a cultural incubator for social change. Sale explains how this component of the Future IDs initiative was often where some of the most important, vulnerable and powerful conversations in the project took place.
The project culminated with an Art & Justice Summit on Alcatraz on September 28, 2019. Exhibiting artists, community members, organizations and allies all came together to reflect on the work that had been accomplished over the year and to consolidate plans on how to extend the project into the future. One outcome was the development of the Future IDs Art & Justice Leadership Cohort, a cohort of leaders consisting of the core collaborators who will continue to drive the social impact campaign of the project.
The December 2020 edition of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s online magazine features an open conversation among Future IDs creative team members—Sale, Dominique Bell and Kelly Savage-Rodriguez, –talking via Zoom with Shannon Jackson (scholar/campus administrator) and Roberto Bedoya (arts administrator/thought leader). The conversation focused on what it means to create civic space in the context of Future IDs at Alcatraz. Civic space is a term used to describe a feature of democratic society where citizens have autonomy and are able to communicate, organize and operate without hindrance from outside parties.
In relation to the multiple justice-based organizations who participated in the public program workshops, attended by advocacy and community groups, Sale asked, “How can the site serve as a valuable civic forum for local communities to consider incarceration, justice, and our common humanity?”
With programs and workshops focused on the re-entry community—their lived experience, their trauma, their resilience—and how speaking about and being with those real-life experiences might lead to justice reform, often created a nuanced dynamic, or even a complex clash at times, with the everyday practice of national parks. As a federal agency, NPS cannot host direct political advocacy. However, it can host first-person storytelling. With NPS approval and invitation, Future IDs negotiated this nuanced space, developing processes and strategies to operate as the facilitator in the process of transforming personal narrative into justice reform. The collaboration between NPS and Future IDsproduced mutual gains. The legacy of the Future IDs at Alcatraz will likely be the development of a model for NPS to use in the future.
This quality of questioning and extending institutional boundaries continues into the present-day activity of the Future IDs project. Over the past 12 months, Sale and the Future IDs Art & Justice Leadership Cohort have been continuing the social impact campaign by exploring the benefits of integrating the Future IDs’ goals with academia. Using the Zoom platform, Sale has facilitated a series of dynamic conversations between core-collaborators, educators, community partners and thought leaders, to explore and collaboratively realize what these benefits could be.
Having participated in a number of these conversations, I understand the value of this process and the rich content that is generated when focused, committed individuals share and combine their expertise. Something I have witnessed during the pandemic is how the Zoom platform can flatten and re-shape the academic hierarchy. Deans, professors, students, and visitors are all equalized and each contained within a small, rectilinear frame. Power dynamics, physically and visually, are leveled. The quality of the contribution that people bring to an open conversation is their capacity to communicate, ask thoughtful questions, actively listen and provide substantive answers.
The online arena, in this destabilizing time, has blurred the boundaries between social need and mental health, educational, professional and domestic environments. People are simultaneously experiencing isolation while having access to large groups of people they may never have anticipated connecting with. The restrictions brought on by the pandemic demand a level of authenticity and honesty that potentially may have been skimmed across, prior to the pandemic in academic environments. This quality has a significant impact on projects such as Future IDs with a socially-engaged justice focus.
In October, one of the conversations was held as a hybrid event at the Arizona State University Art Museum, as part of a Pilot Projects: Art. Response. Now. exhibition series. The event titled, What’s next for Future IDs? A focused dialogue on second chances after incarceration, socially engaged art practice, and the role of academia. The conversation focused on how academia could best provide a platform for art and justice reform advocates to continue to develop as social leaders and drive social change. This conversation, facilitated by Sale, involved project collaborators Kim Kirn, Cirese LaBerge, community collaborator Frantz Beasley, ASU professors and thought leaders Lois Brown, Kevin Wright and curator Julio Cesar Morales.
On November 3, another Zoom conversation took place between Future IDs community and Yale University students and faculty in the School of Architecture. The group of Yale students and faculty who were creating designs for a new youth diversion facility, invited the Future IDs community to discuss their ongoing work. The conversation had an arts focus, with the Yale students wanting to gain an understanding of how the Future IDs at Alcatraz exhibition and programs activated the site, and supported generative relationships between the site and system-impacted individuals and communities.
It was exciting to see how much the Yale students and faculty valued the insight offered by the Future IDscollaborators; whose expertise was gained through their lived experience. This is an important aspect of how society is shifting, as core collaborator Kirn Kim explained in the Yale conversation and provided an example of multiple organizations in Los Angeles who are starting to recognize the value of such lived experience in job applications.
My independent research project has been working with Sale and Future IDs collaborators developing an Art and Future Planning Workbook and curriculum. This workbook will serve as an educational resource that will enable the impact of Future IDs to be disseminated into other prisons and communities. The workbook will be available for incarcerated individuals, re-entry communities and program instructors as an invitation for people to participate in the process of creating their own Future ID.
My role has been to review the large body of material generated throughout the Future IDs project, to review drafts and to design the layout of the workbook. One of the strongest elements of this workbook is that the contents are predominantly produced by those with the lived experience of reentering society after incarceration. The workbook will include lesson plans, questions and instructions that were used in the original workshops leading up to Future IDsexhibition on Alcatraz. This content has been carried through a collaborative process in which Sale, Future IDscollaborators and I have selected the material that will ideally make the workbook most accessible to others.
As an outcome of the deliberate conversations, focusing on the combination of Future IDs and academia, Sale has initiated a new Art & Justice Leadership Cohort through the School of Art, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. As a first step, this involves several Futures IDs core collaborators and I participating in a new hybrid seminar/studio course called the Arts and Justice as community leaders, co-learners and teachers. The course, starting in January 2021, will explore the intersection of art, activism, history, and politics and will focus on the complexities of race and democracy, and how, as thought-leaders and change-makers, we can better prepare to operate in these challenging times. I will participate in this as an intern, collaborator, and community teacher, bringing the knowledge and skills I have gained previously, working within educational campuses in Australian prisons.
To see a short film about Future IDs at Alcatraz follow the link to an article, Creating Space for Second Chances, in the Kenneth Rainin Foundation Arts Blog. https://krfoundation.org/creating-space-for-second-chances/
Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art A Materials and Techniques Handbook, Jorge Pinto Books New York, 2011.
 Future IDs, 2020, The Future Planning Curriculum, https://futureids.com/art-future-planning-workshop/future-ids-art-future-planning-workshop/
 International Sites of Conscience, Golden Gate, National Recreation Area California, April 4, 2018, https://www.nps.gov/goga/learn/historyculture/site-of-conscience.htm
 Stand by Your Art, Future IDs, 2020, https://futureids.com/artist-ids/stand-by-your-art/
 Communications, Creating Space for Second Chances [VIDEO], Kenneth Rain Foundation Art Blog, Dec 3, 2020, https://krfoundation.org/creating-space-for-second-chances/