Call for artists: Visualizing Freedom / Visualizing Incarceration

lifelines header
LifeLines: Voices Against the Other Death Penalty is a project conducted in extensive, long-term collaboration with eight people serving Death By Incarceration sentences (also known as Life Without Parole) in Pennsylvania. The project uses interviews, creative media interventions, and audio to support an emerging statewide campaign to abolish Death By Incarceration.

We are looking for six visual artists to partner with us in 2017 to produce an exhibit based on the themes of visualizing freedom/visualizing incarceration. We will use the traveling exhibit to generate dialog and advocacy across the state to end Death By Incarceration, as well as to push for the roll back of draconian sentencing policies and mass incarceration more generally.

What we’re looking for from artists:

Each artist will be paired with a member of the LifeLines Project who is currently serving a DBI sentence, and will be asked to collaborate with them to create three pieces of work. The inside members of the LifeLines project have all been active in social and transformative justice movements for many years; some are artists, poets, and writers, and many of them have been mentors to younger folks on both sides of the prison walls. You can read more about them and their work here.

The first two pieces will be visual interpretations of the LifeLine member’s responses to the questions “Visualize an image from your daily life or the prison landscape that you want the public to see” and “When you visualize freedom, what does it look like?”. The third piece is a portrait of that individual that will reduce well to smaller sizes.

We are looking for artists who are excited about working closely with LifeLines members inside of prison to come up with a vision for the piece (this can be done by mail). We’re open to all types of visual art, but we are hoping to travel with the exhibit, so we are looking for pieces that can reasonably fit inside a sedan.

What we can provide:

  • In addition to the “visualizing freedom/visualizing incarceration” prompts from LifeLines members, we will also provide you with transcripts of interviews and audio recordings of the person you are paired with, so you can get a sense of their personality and political vision. Much of this content is also available on our website:
  • We will provide each artist with a stipend of $300 to cover materials and expenses. We know that this is an insufficient amount to compensate people for their time and effort and we wish we could offer more, but LifeLines is a small unstaffed project without any consistent source of funding.
  • Your work would be credited to you.

Timeline for the project:

  • By mid-April, we will select the six artists and pair them with LifeLines members on the inside.
  • By mid-May, we are asking that people will have begun the process of consulting with their partner on the inside about the direction of the pieces.
  • By the end of July, we will receive the three finished visual works from you.
  • The exhibit itself would open sometime in the fall of 2017, and will be shown in collaboration with workshops, panels, and protests highlighting the need to end Death By Incarceration.

Interested in participating?

Please respond by March 31, 2017. Send us an email and a sample of your work to with the following information:

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you are interested in participating in this project.
  • Share something with us about your connection to this issue (this could be related to your personal experience, your artistic practice, activist work etc).
  • Send us a sample of your work (photos, links to websites, or anything that gives us a sense of what you do).

Why this project? Why now?

There is no better or more critical time to be pushing for an end to ineffective, immoral, racist, and harsh sentencing schemes like Death By Incarceration, and the exclusionary logic which underlies them. Even under Obama, who made some minor concessions to the need to address mass incarceration, the number of people sentenced to die behind bars only grew. And now we are faced with a new president who has made law-and-order policies and white nationalist ideas the backbone of his campaign.

Pennsylvania prisons contain over 5000 people who have been sentenced to die in prison, many of whom have been active for decades in the movement to abolish these unjust sentences. For the first time, we also have a state bill on the table (HB135) that if passed would do just that: create parole eligibility opportunities for those serving life sentences. But we need to build a strong enough base to propel these changes forward.

We believe that building movements across the prison walls, and hearing the voices of those most impacted by these sentences is critical, not just because inclusion is important, but because it is deeply strategic. People who are currently serving DBI sentences have been at the forefront of these movements, and there is no way we can change this punitive, white supremacist regime without their participation, leadership, and vision.

We believe that art has a key role to play in creating these changes. We know that visual economies and visual regimes of power have been massively employed by mainstream media sources in order to criminalize people, and we think we will not win this fight without producing and disseminating our own countervailing visual interruptions.

We believe that art has the power to produce new narratives that center resistance, resilience, healing, transformation, and love. We’d love your help to make this possible.