billy mcguinness
Just Art
watercolor on paper
9 in x 12 in
This work was made by an artist in Division II of the Cook County Jail. It was created in a program called Just Art.

Taking shape as weekly open studio art sessions and writing workshops for people incarcerated at the Cook County Jail, Just Art is essentially a social sculpture; a time-based, collaborative work of art, in which a group of human beings is collectively remaking – from the inside out – the largest single site pre-detention facility in the United States. The project is not about providing services or advocating for policy reform. It is about relationship building and, by extension, world building. It is about enacting solutions on a personal level. Focused on the human experience, over the past four years, Just Art has used creative practices to consistently offer an alternative to isolation and punishment and has, in the process, made a difference (however slight or imperceptible) in the overall energy and constitution of the jail.

The long-term goal of this work? To turn the jail into a center for human connection and collective learning. We believe that with enough passion, imagination, hard work, critical thinking, courage and love, every detention center, every jail, and every prison in this country can be deconstructed and remade into the kinds of institutions that we actually want and need – schools, libraries, health clinics, affordable housing, employment agencies, cultural venues and community centers.

The existence of the jail is not reflective of the individual failures of the people locked up there. Rather, it is reflective of our collective failure to honor the values that are to supposed to guide and shape our society – reflective of our collective abdication of responsibility to build the kind of world we want to see. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The world is what we make it, and we don’t have to be a nation of jailers. It’s not about law and order, it’s about support and opportunity. It’s not about punishment, it’s about care and healing. It’s not about incarceration, it’s about education. The solutions are obvious. We need only the will to act on what we already know.

Just Art strongly advocates that citizens concerned with justice volunteer to participate in initiatives that support direct contact with fellow citizens who have been incarcerated.

For more information, please contact us at Thanks!
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