Illinois Humanities Launches Envisioning Justice RE:ACTION, a Virtual Exhibition and Activation Kit That Uses the Arts and Humanities to Imagine a Future Without Mass Incarceration

For Immediate Release: March 16, 2022

Press Releases
Illinois Humanities

Read Time 5 minutes
March 16, 2022

Contact: | 773-251-4772

The virtual exhibition features work by artists, humanists, journalists, filmmakers, poets, musicians, educators, and activists – many of whom are formerly or currently incarcerated

Virtual guided walk-throughs and interviews are available to the press. Contact Sarah Sommers at COMMUNICATIONS@ILHUMANITIES.ORG | 773-251-4772.


March 23, Illinois HumanitiesEnvisioning Justice RE:ACTION, a virtual exhibition and interactive toolkit, opens to the public. Designed to generate action, reflection, and community conversation around mass incarceration, the exhibition and activation kit, created in partnership with 14 commissioned artists and humanists (including an installation by Pulitzer Prize winner Mitchell S. Jackson), illustrates the impacts of mass incarceration while providing a way for participants to share their visions of justice.

Leveraging the arts and humanities to envision alternatives to the enduring injustice of mass incarceration, the exhibition and activation kit explore questions such as “What truly keeps us safe?, What would a world without jails and prisons look like?, and How do we get there?”

Envisioning Justice RE:ACTION presents a powerful composite of viewpoints and experiences from across Illinois,” said Gabrielle Lyon, Executive Director of Illinois Humanities. “This project not only illustrates dynamically and in personal terms the injurious effects of mass incarceration and the criminal legal system on local communities, but it guides each of us to imagine other possibilities and see through other people’s eyes.”

Commissioned artists and humanists were tasked to create new work that responds to – and grapples with – mass incarceration in impacted communities throughout Illinois. Each of the commissioned works is accompanied by a prompt that leads users through real-world activities designed to question their relationships to the carceral state, encourage healing, and get involved in their communities. After completing a prompt, users’ responses are shared on the website for others to read, listen, and watch, and become part of a crowdsourced response to mass incarceration.

“At Illinois Humanities, we believe that the arts and humanities are essential tools in confronting the local, national, and global impacts of mass incarceration. With RE:ACTION, we wanted to create a platform that is truly participatory and offers users the opportunity to not only be inspired by the incredible projects in the exhibition, but also to use the humanities to react to their experience and shape their own visions and questions about justice,” said Jane Beachy, Artistic Director at Illinois Humanities and project lead for RE:ACTION.

The exhibition will include pieces such as Pulitzer Prize winner Mitchell S. Jackson’s short story, “By Blood,” an exploration of the complex dynamics of power and gender embedded in sex work. Jackson says, “The act of writing ‘By Blood’ demanded copious amounts of empathy, which is what I want for people who engage with this project.”

Renaldo Hudson, who spent nearly 40 years incarcerated and now works as the Director of Education for the Illinois Prison Project, created a series of virtual lectures and roundtable talks featuring key voices in the movement against mass incarceration. His prompt, “Every Voice Matters,” is designed to get people talking and really listening – perhaps for the first time.

Amber Ginsburg and Aaron Hughes – the team behind The Tea Project – have launched Remaking the Exceptional, a new podcast made exclusively for RE:ACTION. The series marks 20 years since the opening of the United States’ extralegal prison in Guantánamo by connecting the stories of torture survivors in Chicago to those of survivors of Guantánamo to lay bare a long lineage of state violence.

Sonja Henderson and Janice Bond’s work as the leaders of Mothers Healing Circle in North Lawndale are familiar with the devastating impacts families face through gun violence. Their RE:ACTION prompt has participants tap into their family bonds through food by loved ones about family legacy recipes. The recipes shared through their prompt will expand their installation, Recipes for Life, a cookbook honoring the dishes and cooks that bring a family together – at the table, or in memory.

Other commissioned artists and humanists include Alexandra Antoine and Brandon Wyatt, Tara Betts and David Weathersby, Antonio Burton, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Jasmin Cardenas and William Estrada, Maya Dukmasova, Michael Fischer, Joshua Jackson, Patricia Nguyen, and Naimah Thomas.

April 6, 2022 at 12pm CST, Illinois Humanities will host a free, virtual opening reception to introduce audiences to RE:ACTION, the featured artists and humanists, and the Activation Kit. Attendees will have a chance to contribute to one of the prompts and be among the first to be a part of a new vision for justice.

Envisioning Justice RE:ACTION is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Additional support comes from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge and the Polk Bros. Foundation. Learn more at

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 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.

Envisioning Justice RE:ACTION features work by:

Alexandra Antoine and Brandon Wyatt
Tara Betts and David Weathersby
Antonio Burton
Chicago Torture Justice Memorials
Jasmin Cardenas and William Estrada
Maya Dukmasova
Michael Fischer
Amber Ginsburg and Aaron Hughes
Sonja Henderson and Janice Bond
Renaldo Hudson
Joshua Jackson
Mitchell S. Jackson
Patricia Nguyen
Naimah Thomas