Press Release

Nearly $200K in Grants Announced for “Envisioning Justice” Projects Across State of Illinois

Nearly $200K in Grants Announced for “Envisioning Justice” Projects Across State of Illinois Meant to Challenge Common Conceptions of Mass Incarceration and Envision a Truly Just Society
A convening on higher ed in the prison system, “Letters to Lost Loved Ones,” the experiences of formerly incarcerated community college students among the many projects funded

CONTACT: Ned Schaub, / 312-533-1514

CHICAGO – Illinois Humanities announced today it will award $190,000 in grants to 26 organizations and individuals to support projects across Illinois that respond to the impacts of mass incarceration and collectively envision a society that is restorative, healing, and just for all.

“Especially in this moment of continued duress, Illinois Humanities is proud to support work that is harnessing the arts and humanities to help communities to reimagine critical issues—such as the criminal justice system—in their lives,” said Illinois Humanities Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon, PhD. “We are firm believers that the arts and humanities help us to step back and reimagine policies and systems, particularly those that are causing great harm.”

Envisioning Justice, an ambitious initiative that Illinois Humanities has led since 2017, engages Illinoisans in conversation about the impact of mass incarceration in local communities and invites organizations, collectives, and individuals to use the arts and humanities to devise strategies toward a truly just society. To date, this initiative has included multiyear partnerships with seven Chicago community-based groups, work that culminated in a citywide exhibition in August 2019, which attracted nearly 12,000 visitors.

During 2021, Illinois Humanities will be expanding Envisioning Justice throughout Illinois. Over the next three years Illinois Humanities plans to commission local artists and humanists to create new work that responds to and grapples with mass incarceration in impacted communities, and will develop an interactive digital tool that people throughout the state can use to spark conversation, reflection, and action within their own communities.

This current cycle of projects is made possible through the generous support of both the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. They include two categories:

  1. Envisioning Justice Action Grants, funded by the Art for Justice Fund, will be awarded to 13 Illinois-based projects responding to mass incarceration and amplifying new visions of justice from communities impacted by our criminal legal system. Of the 13 grants being announced, 11 are in Cook County, one is in Will County, and one is in Champaign County. Seven Action Grants will go to organizations and six to individuals.
  2. Envisioning Justice Place-Based Grants, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will be awarded to 12 additional projects outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. These projects explore the impacts of mass incarceration in six communities that were selected for being geographically representative, housing a prison or jail, and/or having experienced demographic shifts as a result of the proximity of this institution. These communities include the Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area, Carbondale, Decatur, East St. Louis, Galesburg, and Urbana-Champaign.

Envisioning Justice Action Grants include:

·      Angellic Ross / Go to the Body Proof of Concept (Chicago, IL)

·      Chicago 400 / Chicago 400 Alliance / Meet the Chicago 400: Lessons in the Carceral State (Chicago, IL)

·      Daris Jasper / Adding Faces to the Names – The Burge Survivors (Chicago, IL)

·      Fifth House Ensemble / Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center Residency (Chicago, IL)

·      Harold Washington College / Exploring the experiences of formerly incarcerated community college students (Chicago, IL)

·      Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP) / Downstate Convening on Higher Education in Prison (Champaign, IL)

·      Jose Luis Benavides / Letters to Lost Loved Ones (Chicago, IL)

·      Joseph Dole / Illustrating a Better Way: Art & Animation on the Failure of Deterrence and Need for Community Approaches to Public Safety (Joliet, IL)

·      Kirsten Leenaars / Insights/Outsides: Freestyle Freedom (Chicago, IL)

·      Lavon Nicole Pettis / Steps to Endeavor (Chicago, IL)

·      Parole Illinois / Stories for Freedom: Preparing and Sharing Testimony of People Impacted by Extreme Sentencing (Chicago, IL)

·      Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project / The 51st (Free) State (Chicago, IL)

·      The Voices and Faces Project / Testimony and Transformation: Telling a New Story About Mass Incarceration (Chicago, IL)

Envisioning Justice Place-Based Grants include:

·      Art from the Heart / Art from the Heart (Bloomington, IL)

·      Carbondale Public Library / The Mentorship Project (Carbondale, IL)

·      Carbondale Spring/ Autarchia (Carbondale, IL)

·      FirstFollowers/ Aiming for Peace in 217 (Urbana, IL)

·      Galesburg Civic Art Center/ Expression Connection (Galesburg, IL)

·      Global Restorative Justice Partnership/ Creation of a Restorative Justice Hub (Decatur, IL)

·      Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (IL-CHEP)/ Downstate Convening on Higher Education in Prison (Champaign, IL)

·      Project Read Plus/ Restore with STEAM (Decatur, IL)

·      Shakespeare Corrected/ Shakespeare Corrected (Decatur, IL)

·      Southern Illinois Community Foundation/ Community Conversations – Systemic Racism & Mass Incarceration (Marion, IL)

·      The Well Experience/ RENEW Her – REstoring the Narrative of Every Women back to Her (Urbana, IL)

·      WIN Recovery/ WIN Recovery’s Decarceration Project (Champaign, IL)

Two groups will receive funding to host small group “Justice Dialogues:” A Gift of Love Charity (Carbondale) and Parole Illinois (for dialogues to take place in Bloomington and Galesburg).

For more information on the initiative, visit


About Illinois Humanities

Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn @ILHumanities.

About the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and we believe that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom to be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more about the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at

About the Art for Justice Fund
The Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, makes direct grants to artists and advocates focused on safely reducing the prison population, promoting justice reinvestment, and creating art that changes the narrative around mass incarceration. Learn more about the Art for Justice Fund at