They’re using art to push policy!
A Philadelphia mural is raising awareness and funds to bail out incarcerated Black mothers, The Philadelphia Tribune reports.
A new mural on Philadelphia’s Spring Garden Street is raising a pertinent message about incarcerated Black women. The installation, courtesy of The People’s Paper Co-op, is an effort to raise money to bail out Black mothers, caregivers and gender-non-conforming people behind bars in time for Mother’s Day, while shining a light on the dangers of the cash bail system.
“The People’s Paper Co-Op, is an ongoing program of the Village of Arts and Humanities, co-founded in 2014. It’s a women-powered Women’s Center, art and advocacy project that connects women coming home from prison and jail with artists and mentors and allies to imagine and advocate for a beautiful future that we all dream of, demand, and deserve,” explained Courtney Bowles, co-director of the People’s Paper Co-op.
Faith Bartly, a Lead Fellow at the organization, first met Bowles and Mark Strandquist, two artists from Richmond, Virginia, in 2014. Bartly wanted to teach them how to make paper out of old mail, showing them how to use the technique to create something beautiful. Bowles eventually helped scale the project, partnering with veteran Philadelphia nonprofit, The Village of Arts and Humanities, which focuses on merging art with social justice and community issues. Every spring The People’s Paper Co-op provides a paid fellowship for women who have been released from jail or prison, collaborating with The Philadelphia Community Bail Fund for what they call the Black Mama’s Bail Out Campaign.
“Women create beautiful poetry and portraits that we share with artists across North America and that’s how the posters come about…This will be our fifth year partnering with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund. [In regards to] cash bail, there’s a lot to say about what’s wrong with it. But each year, the bail fund hosts the Black Mamas Day Bail Out to bring moms and caregivers home in time for Mother’s Day to be with their families and communities, where they belong. We believe in this work, we believe in reunifying families,” said Bowles.
The mural is based on artwork done by artists throughout North America and Mexico who have taken the art created by People’s Paper Co-Op fellows and melded it into beautiful abolitionist art. The art is sold to help finance the Bail Fund, the Co-op having raised more than $170,000 for the cause over the course of three years. This week alone, nine women will be released as a result of the Co-op’s work.
“We use art as a Trojan horse to push policy because a lot of people like art and they are in tune with art. So art is a vehicle for us to push policy and bring awareness and particularly to bring awareness to women incarcerated. Women are getting locked up at a higher rate than men, especially women of color,” said Bartly.
A formerly incarcerated woman herself, Bartly said it was super important to her to do this work with other women who had been through a similar situation.
“When Mark and I sat down to… start this initiative, I suggested reaching out to women that are coming home because they need resources. Time and time again, it was hard for me to break the cycle of recidivism because there wasn’t a People’s Paper Co-op around or if it was I didn’t know about it,” said Bartly.
The organization has multiple bailouts planned throughout this month, the first of them happening this week. It is Bowles' hope that they can continue the work annually, helping to reclaim the narrative for many of the women in the program, and shining a light on the errors in the current system.
“Every year we’re hoping that the campaign will bring an end to cash bail,” she said.
To learn more about the work of The People’s Paper Co-op, click here.
Photo Courtesy of The People’s Paper Co-op