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Create Justice: A National Discussion on Arts and Youth Justice

Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) and the Los Angeles–based Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) gathered a diverse group of more than 150 thought leaders from across the US last March to launch Create Justice: A National Discussion on Arts and Youth Justice. This new national initiative—focused on the intersection of arts and youth justice—will take place over a series of three forums in New York and Los Angeles throughout the next year.

Participants at the first Create Justice forum included artists, policymakers, funders, activists, researchers, leaders from nonprofit organizations and government agencies, and people whose involvement in the arts made a meaningful difference when they were young. The group convened for a two-day series of talks by featured guest speakers, as well as performances by professional artists and young people. Panel discussions and group conversations centered on developing innovative solutions to help youth succeed during and after justice involvement. The forum was led, in part, by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, chief of program and pedagogy at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Joseph is also a recipient of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative and the US Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. During the forum, he facilitated conversations to brainstorm ideas and provoke guiding questions with the aim of developing collective strategies to support young people by engaging them through the arts.

Photo by Fadi Kheir  


New York City government and nonprofit leaders shared best practices, and participants had the opportunity to highlight current efforts for young people in cities around the country. Forum participants collaborated on a set of guiding questions that will continue to evolve as the cross-country collective moves forward in its work to develop a national plan of action. Participants asked how they might best support young people through engagement in the arts to forge new identities and by creating pathways for youth to become leaders. They also asked how the arts might work within the system to create intergenerational opportunities and engage families, communities, and neighborhoods to be a part of the solution.

“Through the series of three forums, we’re engaging a network of artists and professionals with a deep reservoir of expertise, and inviting them to brainstorm around questions and to think collaboratively and strategically as we work together to develop a collective action plan,” said Sarah Johnson, director of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. “The approach we’re taking with the Create Justice initiative might be considered a different way of doing things,” she added. “We’re not coming in with a set of solutions or programs. Inquiry is a big piece of artistry, and leading with inquiry creates a more inclusive platform, grounded in arts practice, to move forward as we look at these issues together.”

“Arts should be valued as foundational to investing in youth wellbeing.”

The second Create Justice forum will be hosted by Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network in Los Angeles on September 25 and 26, when policymakers and artists will further refine their ideas and priorities as they move toward crafting a national plan of action. The participants will be immersed in Los Angeles’s new youth detention facility, the Campus Kilpatrick project, for its first official public event. Stakeholders will work side by side with young people who are integrating arts as part of a holistic, evidence-based pilot program being implemented at this innovative model site.

“We believe arts are uniquely positioned to strengthen young people, create pathways for youth success, and catalyze systems change. Arts should be valued as foundational to investing in youth wellbeing,” said Kaile Shilling, executive director of Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network. “It’s quite radical that both venerable and grassroots arts organizations across the country are addressing youth justice issues as part of their core mission. The consensus among the diverse cross-section of participants—including probation representatives—who attended the first Create Justice forum last March was very clear that a punitive approach that incarcerates our youth is less productive than providing arts as access points, and this is where we want to invest our time.”

“The cost to incarcerate a young person in California is $200,000 per year, and in New York the cost is $350,000 per year,” added Shilling. “In that context, it inspires us even further to invest in our youth by focusing on education, increasing access to the arts, and transforming the juvenile justice system.”

The series of three forums culminates at Carnegie Hall next spring, at which time the network of participants will share a set of national recommendations. The final forum kicks off on March 11, with a concert in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage that will feature renowned artists, as well as young people performing music and showcasing art developed in justice settings.

Visit our video playlist to watch presentations from Create Justice’s March 2017 forum in New York City.

For updates and program activity about the Create Justice initiative, visit and

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