Minnesota Humanities Center

Reflections on Inside & Out

Posted March 27, 2024

Written by Antonio Espinosa, founder, Art from the Inside; Jennifer Marx, artist and board member, Art from the Inside; and Lux Thunberg, artist and board member, Art from the Inside

Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration was a convening hosted by Illinois Humanities in March 2024 to bring together humanities councils, community members, and organizers to share, connect, and consider the role of the humanities in mass incarceration. Over the course of three days, participants heard personal stories from formerly incarcerated individuals, and learned about how councils and organizations across the country were doing work to create change within the criminal justice system. MHC’s community partner, Art From The Inside (AFTI), shares their reflections on being part of the convening.

One of our artists and board members, Jennifer Marx, shared the following about her experience at the convening in Chicago, “As I reflect on the convening, one word that comes to mind is inspiration. The energy and creativity that permeated the event were truly remarkable. Being surrounded by talented artists, passionate individuals, and dedicated community partners was incredibly motivating. It reinforced my belief in the power of art and its ability to foster meaningful connections and drive social change.”

Another artist and board member, Lux Thunberg, also shared enthusiasm about the event, “The opportunity to be in Chicago was nothing short of amazing and being in the same spaces with other justice impacted people and people who care was a powerful experience. It was incredible to take part in and I was shocked to learn there are so many people out in this world doing things to really create change and connection in the criminal justice system.”

One of the key takeaways for AFTI from the convening is the importance of collaboration. Witnessing the collaborative spirit among artists and community partners in Chicago was awe-inspiring. It highlighted the immense value of bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise to tackle complex social issues. AFTI can significantly benefit from fostering similar collaborations within its network, and encouraging artists and community partners to work together towards common goals.

Photo by GlitterGuts

Another valuable lesson from the convening was the power of storytelling. The artists’ ability to convey their experiences, struggles, and triumphs through their art was truly impactful. It reminded us of the importance of amplifying marginalized voices and using art as a tool for advocacy and social justice. AFTI can incorporate more storytelling elements into its initiatives, allowing artists to share their narratives and create a deeper connection with audiences.

The convening was a transformative experience. It broadened our perspective on the role of art in social change and reinforced our commitment to supporting artists and community engagement. We gained new insights, made valuable connections, and left feeling inspired to continue the vital work of AFTI. We shared stories and listened to stories. We were able to share our art. We were able to share our voices. We were especially impacted by the Ritual for Return performance and the performance by Reginald Dwayne Betts. These performances were emotional to witness and each emphasized the importance of the humanities and fine arts in humanizing and healing people.

On anticipating the event, Jen shared, “During our drive to Chicago, I initially had some reservations about the overall turnout for the event. I never thought that so many people would care about “the invisible” to the point of traveling that far from their home states. However, as soon as I entered the conference room, my skepticism was replaced with excitement. The room was filled, brimming with love and compassion. It was truly heartwarming to witness the overwhelming support and dedication of the attendees towards the cause.”

After attending this convening, we feel excited, tired, and emotional, but mostly we feel connected. We feel a connection to like-minded people who we will be able to build lifelong friendships with and who we can do future projects with. Art from the Inside will continue to build from this experience for those currently and previously justice impacted.

In closing, AFTI is honored to have had the opportunity to contribute to the MHC blog and share our thoughts on the convening. We believe that this piece can serve as a platform to highlight the impact of the event, the importance of collaboration and storytelling, and the valuable lessons learned. We look forward to working closely with MHC on future events. 

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Art from the Inside Headshot
By: Art from the Inside

Art from the Inside (AFTI) empowers incarcerated artists to experience personal transformation and restoration. They believe art provides the space to imagine new ways of being and to recognize our personal and collective power to change.