‘Performing Statistics’ exhibit in Cabell reflects Common Book themes

March 28, 2017

A thought-provoking exhibition that offers insights from young people inside the U.S. juvenile justice system will be on view April 10-14 at James Branch Cabell Library. The exhibit is co-sponsored by The VCU Common Book Program and VCU Libraries. 

The display captures the stories, voices and viewpoints of youth 14 to 17 who took part in a 2016 program by ART 180 in partnership with the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center. Through self portraits, visual narratives and digital media the young people explore their views of education, family, change and their futures using various mediums of expression.

“The artwork is meant to talk to specific issues we need to address in our justice system,” said Trey Hartt, deputy director of ART 180, a Richmond-based, 19-year old nonprofit that addresses social change through art.

“Performing Statistics,” a joint effort by ART 180 and Legal Aid Justice Center, connects incarcerated teens with artists, designers, educators and advocates who work to transform the juvenile justice system. The ART 180 program, according to its website, “works with youth trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline to sharpen their advocacy and leadership skills, share their experiences through creative expression, and mobilize communities for change.”

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The exhibit explores the local impact of one issue explored in the 2016-17 Common Book Just Mercy: incarceration of youth. Virginia students are referred to law enforcement for in-school disciplinary matters at a higher rate than any state in the country.  

The exhibit at VCU was organized by the VCU Common Book Program, an annual shared experience for the academic community. A book is chosen for communal reading, discussion and study. As part of a yearlong, universitywide Common Book initiative, thousands of incoming students have read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, a 2014 book that tells the true account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age. The book provides a window into the lives of those he has defended and makes an argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Just Mercy is by Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children in need facing the criminal justice system. Just Mercy follows a number of EJI’s cases, including the cases of a number of juvenile defendants, a population Stevenson has argued is particularly vulnerable in the judicial system.  

Stevenson delivers a keynote address April 12, 6 p.m. at the Siegel Center. It is free and open to all. No tickets or reservations are required.

The school-to-prison pipeline reduction is only one aspect of incarceration that the VCU Common Book Program has explored this academic year with the VCU community. Other programs and discussions have explored prison medicine, memoir writing from jail, law enforcement, gangs, life after incarceration.

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Some of the artists whose work is on view in “Performing Statistics” will take part in a workshop for educators about school safety, classroom management and youth advocacy with invited teachers and VCU School of Education students the afternoon of April 12. Participants will tour the exhibition in Cabell as part of an afternoon that includes group discussion, curricular training and advocacy consultations with staff from the Legal Aid Justice Center.

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