Create Justice at Carnegie Hall


On March 23 & 24, 2017, thought leaders, artists, representatives from non-profit and government agencies, and policymakers from across the US gathered at Carnegie Hall in New York for Create Justice, the first national conversation to focus exclusively on the intersection of arts education and youth justice. The discussion, led in partnership with The Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network in Los Angeles, continues with three forums over the next twelve months designed to build collaboration on a national scale.

Photo by Fadi Kheir

Photo by Fadi Kheir

(July 6, 2017; NEW YORK, NY)—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 U.S. over two days this spring in Carnegie Hall’s Resnick Education Wing to launch Create Justice: A National Discussion on Arts and Youth Justice—a new national initiative focused on the intersection of arts and youth justice. Create Justice is designed to generate a national network of arts and justice leaders dedicated to fostering creative strategies that empower our nation’s most at-risk youth to reach their full potential through opportunities in the arts. Over the next year, participants will reconvene for two more forums: September 25-26, 2017 in Los Angeles, followed by the final forum in New York City from March 11-13, 2018.

Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute provides music education and social impact programs in schools and community settings that harness the power of music to make a meaningful difference in the lives of more than half a million people around the globe each season. Over the past 8 years, WMI has become deeply involved in creating programs for young people in juvenile justice settings, exploring ways that music and art can play a role in their lives. AIYN is a collaborative of 10 organizations with extensive experience in visual, literary, and performing arts education in detention facilities and the only arts collaborative in California working with youth who are incarcerated.

“The arts are about inclusion, connection, and community,” said Sarah Johnson, Director of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. “We have seen firsthand the transformative power of the arts in the lives of youth involved in our programs. The arts provide a unique opportunity for nurturing talents and creative expression and provide pathways for youth to work toward personal goals and reach their potential.”

“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 in 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.”

Although youth incarceration rates have declined by almost 50% since 2003, the U.S. 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. “As a nation that values our young people, there’s too much at stake to not consider creative solutions that forge a more positive path for our kids,” said Johnson. “As members of a broader cultural community, we all have an important role to play.”

Participants at the Create Justice forum at Carnegie Hall in March 2017 included artists, policymakers, funders, activists, researchers, leaders from non-profit organizations and government agencies as well as those who benefited as young people from involvement in the arts. They convened for a series of talks by featured guest speakers, which were framed by performances by professional artists as well as 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, who is a recipient of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative and the U.S. Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. Joseph facilitated cross-sector conversations to brainstorm ideas and provoke guiding questions with the aim of developing collective impact strategies to support young people by engaging them through the arts.

New York City government and non-profit 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, multi-partner 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 plan,” said Johnson. “The approach we’re taking with the Create Justice initiative might be considered a different way of doing things,” Johnson 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.”

The second Create Justice forum will be hosted by Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network in Los Angeles on September 25 and 26, 2017, when policymakers and artists will further refine collective 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.

The series of three forums will culminate at Carnegie Hall on March 12-13, 2018, when the network of participants will share a set of national recommendations. The final forum will kick off on March 11, 2018 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.

Kaile Shilling