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Philly Is Now Home to An Interactive Public Art Installation to One of the Only Political Issues That Unites Americans

October 25, 2018

Talked about by both major parties in the 2016 Presidential Election and supported by new and old non-partisan efforts in cities and states around the U.S., criminal justice reform seems to be one of the only major political issues that unites America right now. And this month, a new temporary criminal justice-themed interactive public art installation popped up in Thomas Paine Plaza at 15th street and JFK boulevard across the street from Philadelphia’s City Hall. From artists Jesse Krimes and Russell Craig, created with the support of Mural Arts Philadelphia, the installation seeks to encourage public thought and discussion around criminal justice reform.

Early this week I was listening to a podcast about an effort from a coalition of individuals in Florida looking to regain their right to vote. These are former felons who’ve served their time and are now off probation, yet they are still unable to register to vote under current Florida law. The coalition spans political parties and ideologies. As one of its members said in a July NPR interview, “This is an issue that transcends rural-urban-suburban divide. It transcends the partisan divide… And it really is something that impacts all communities and all walks of life.”

There’s no doubt that our criminal justice system is broken. And if you’re unsure of that for any reason look no further than this fact sheet from the NAACP that highlights unjust incarceration trends in America, including how our current system disproportionately effects black and brown communities. Click on the first photo below to read some specific statistics about Philadelphia’s jail population that is displayed along with Jesse and Russell’s installation.

Of course, a full, systematic reform of our criminal justice system includes many steps like a focus on how to support individuals who’ve come out of the system and making sure that their voting rights are guaranteed. It requires a will for building consensus and collaboration on a local, state, and federal level that is too often missing from our politics today. But a growing, broad eagerness for criminal justice reform is currently one of the few issues in our country that has the support of people from all sides of the political spectrum. In fact, I believe it’s the excitement for this kind of change that is one of the reasons why Larry Krasner was elected District Attorney in Philadelphia last year, and why the success of such a reform-focused candidate in a city that more often than not unfortunately is comfortable with, even apathetic to, the status quo of our local government continues to garner national attention. (You may remember I endorsed Krasner ahead of that 2017 election.)

Portraits of Justice, the installation by Jesse Krimes and Russell Craig at Thomas Paine Plaza, seeks to engage Philadelphians and visitors alike in solution-oriented dialogues around the injustices of the criminal justice system. The semi-transparent window mural is visible during the day and glows at night, and it depicts portraits of 17 young men and women from the Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice Guild program. The mural’s brick background, symbolizing barriers to reentry, will slowly be erased over the duration of the project by those who check out the installation and want to participate by adding potential solutions to these issues in the place of a brick.

As of now there’s no word on how long this installation will be up, but if it’s anywhere near as beloved as Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture and Wendy Ewald‘s An Immigrant Alphabet installation that got renewed twice past its original end date at Thomas Paine Plaza last year, I have a feeling this will be up for a while!

Click here to learn more about this project and how it came to be on Mural Arts’ website.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2018 9:05 am

    Powerful message.
    Important issue.


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