2022 Grants Challenge

Arts & Civic Engagement for Incarcerated Youth

Art Attacks! has served as an artistic container for incarcerated youth to discover the value of their voice and the importance of civic engagement through the power of the arts. We use community art projects, theater, spoken word and poetry to engage and inspire participants to change the narrative about who they are and their impact on society. With the support of LA2050, we hope to expand our reach, include VR technology in the curriculum and continue efforts to help youth unpack and heal from the trauma of being incarcerated.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

In California, BIPOC people are overrepresented in prison. Nationally, Black people are incarcerated 5x the rate of white people. Racial disparities are prominent in youth, nationally, an average of 80% of incarcerated youth are Black. These statistics reinforce a lack of equity in resources made available for incarcerated and returned citizens. There is little access to creative tools to navigate the challenges of incarceration. This empowers Creative Acts to do the work to initiate reform in the justice system. We use art as a tool to combat inequities, reduce recidivism, and keep families connected. Layered into the racial disparity of incarcerated people is a lack of racial diversity within leading organizations. We aim to disrupt leadership bureaucracies of the nonprofit system. We address this by operating as a flat organization, prioritizing the voice of those with lived experiences and having a diverse staff and advisory board that is a reflection of the community we serve.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

The Art Attacks! Civic Engagement Arts program brings incarcerated youth and those with lived experiences together with prominent artists and leaders. Empowering them to use their voices to be agents of civic change. Exercises of Theater, poetry, visual arts and music teach youth methods of self exploration, emotional capacity and social engagement. Sometimes this shapes itself as integrating their stories into heartfelt lyrics of a hip-hop song in our partnership with justice nonprofit, Emergent Works and other times it looks like creating poetry with youth activists in our collaboration with youth anti-gun violence organization, March For Our Lives. Through these exercises, youth have the opportunity to unpack and heal the trauma associated with their incarcerated experience. This dynamic program is growing, we are currently in 100% of youth probation centers in LA County and we hope to expand our reach and ultimately our impact. We want to offer this program more frequently throughout the year, so that more incarcerated youth have a consistent artistic outlet that also encourages learning more about ways to be civically engaged. With financial support, we would also have the opportunity to expose youth to our VR leg of our curriculum that continues the civic engagement work, but adds on technology literacy that supports a positive reentry experience.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

We believe exposure to and engagement with the transformative power of art can create a positive trajectory for youth with incarcerated experiences. Our program allows participants to reframe their thinking around history to become more knowledgeable and a civically engaged advocate for issues that affect them. We intend to maintain voting participation after having a 100% rate in 2020. A newer vision is to incorporate Virtual Reality to expose youth to technologies and social experiences that will hopefully support reducing the rate of reoffending within our participants. We can push this vision for success through the program’s circular impact. Former participants who are released are invited to work as teaching artists or to give feedback on programming in our Alumni Lab. Operating with this intention will allow LA youth to have agency in their civic knowledge, socio-emotional awareness, possibilities for creative employment and ultimately a successful reentry into society.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

We are unfortunately unable to collect demographic information through our Art Attacks! program, this is to protect the anonymity of our incarcerated youth as their records are expunged when they reach adulthood and reenter society. We’ve gotten creative in the ways we evaluate our work. Using post program surveys, the probation department has been able to capture the direct reflections of our youth to help us understand the impact of our program. 80% of our youth reported that they have a better understanding of why voting and civic engagement is important, 75% of them reported they are more likely to vote as a result of their participation in the Art Attacks! program. Through this curriculum, we’ve reached 600+ students and witnessed a 100% voter participation in the 2020 Presidential election. “We have community, we built something in this short time…my peers, my brothers, we’re all in this together” – Participant, Camp Rockey

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 700

Indirect Impact: 5,000