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Create Justice: Forging a National Network Dedicated to Justice Reform Through the Arts

On September 25 and 26, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) and the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) will bring together more than 100 arts and justice leaders from across the US in Los Angeles for the second of three national Create Justice forums focused exclusively on arts and youth justice. Create Justice is designed to generate a national network of thought leaders dedicated to fostering creative strategies to work toward justice reform through opportunities in the arts. This new national initiative, which launched in March 2017 in New York City, will culminate at Carnegie Hall on March 11–13, when the network of participants work to finalize their set of national recommendations. The final forum will kick off on March 11 with a concert in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage that will feature young people performing music and art developed in justice settings as they share the stage with celebrated artists.

Teaching artists and young men at Los Angeles Juvenile Detention Camp Rockey site admire the mural they created in the Day Room. This mural is part of the Arts Integration Project, a partnership between the Los Angeles County Probation Department, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network. Photo by Cam Sanders.

At the second Create Justice forum held later this month in Los Angeles, policymakers, artists, funders, activists, researchers, and leaders from nonprofit organizations and government agencies will work together with young people to further refine collective ideas and priorities as they move toward crafting this national plan of action. The number of participants in the Create Justice forum continues to grow, generating a national movement grounded in the intersection of arts and youth justice reform. The forum continues to be 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.

The Create Justice forum in September will be a landmark event, bringing participants to Los Angeles’s new youth detention facility—Campus Kilpatrick—and enabling them to explore the driving questions of the forum alongside youth who are directly impacted. It will also be an opportunity to understand and witness the innovative new “LA model,” which seeks to reform youth detention into a restorative, supportive model of care over corrections.

Simultaneously, Create Justice will hold a youth leadership workshop at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. Young leaders will convene to reflect on and articulate their own priorities in a youth-centered space. They will be supported by facilitators from AIYN members that include Street Poets, Inc., The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, Rhythm Arts Alliance, The Actors’ Gang, and Armory Center for the Arts, who are currently working with youth at Campus Kilpatrick and other juvenile detention facilities across Los Angeles County. The second day of the forum will bring together youth leaders, national stakeholders, and partners to facilitate a collective action plan.

“Create Justice brings together people with a variety of different perspectives who share a belief that the arts can be a tool in reform of the juvenile justice system ...”

A highlight of the forum will be a public pop-up exhibit at the Armory Center for the Arts on the night of Monday, September 25. Art pieces by renowned artists who include Ernesto Yerena, Yosi Sergant of TaskForce, and youth in communities and detention facilities from across the country will illuminate the ongoing conversations around youth justice reform, arts engagement, and cultural equity.

“These conversations are truly a unique process,” said Kaile Shilling, Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network’s executive director. “What’s exciting is that the whole series of forums are themselves modeling a process of collaboration—between emerging young leaders and those with years of expertise in the field, between artists and policymakers, between community and government agencies—that’s all grounded in the arts. The way participants are approaching this is itself part of the solution.”

“Create Justice brings together people with a variety of perspectives who share a belief that the arts can be a tool in reform of the juvenile justice system, and moving toward a more inclusive, restorative approach to juvenile justice,” said Sarah Johnson, director of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. “In the first forum, we heard powerfully the need for young people to be at the table with us in discussions about systems that will impact their lives and the lives of other young people across the country. Collaborative work with young people will therefore be a central part of the upcoming meetings in Los Angeles this fall, and in New York City in March. I’m looking forward to the development of important ideas and concepts from the first forum, and seeing how these begin to become concrete, actionable strategies for the future.”

Although youth incarceration rates have declined by almost 50% since 2003, the US still incarcerates more children than any other nation, with a youth incarceration rate that is five times that of the next highest country. Approximately 95% of youth have been detained or arrested for non-violent crimes, and time in the system can have lifelong negative consequences. There are 34,000 youth in juvenile prisons and 4,500 youth in adult prisons. An additional 20,000 youth are detained in away-from-home residential placement within the juvenile system. 7,200 youth are incarcerated for status offenses and probation violations actions that are not even considered crimes for adults. For statistics, visit Prison Policy Initiative for a full report.

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

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