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Courtney Bowles & Mark Strandquist

ABOG Fellow for Socially Engaged Art

In the United States, there are more than 70 million people with criminal records (more than the entire population of France). In Philadelphia, 1 of every 5 residents has a criminal record. These records create obstacles to employment, housing, education, healthcare, and social mobility, while stigmatizing and shackling people to their past.

The struggle to end mass incarceration cannot be separated from the efforts to support those in reentry, and to truly support those in reentry, our communities need innovative programing, services, and advocacy movements that are co-designed and led by former prisoners.

Building on the ongoing project, the People’s Paper Co-op, Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist will develop the People’s Reentry Think Tank. The project will connect former prisoners, artists, civil rights lawyers, and other community experts in Philadelphia, PA to: clear/clean the criminal records of participants across Philadelphia; use legal clinics as an art-organizing space to transform criminal records into powerful art and advocacy projects; partner with reentry orgs across Philadelphia to organize a community think tank to create a Bill of Rights for those in reentry; organize a culminating “People’s Assembly” at the Pennsylvania State Capitol’s Rotunda, to support the legislative dreams and demands of our think tank.

The project is innovative in its ability to offer real, and urgently needed legal/social services, while working with those most impacted by the criminal justice system to create powerful media campaigns, legislative proposals, and mobile art installations that will connect their voices with thousands across the region and those in power.

Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist have spent years collaborating with incarcerated men, women, teens, and those in reentry, to create public art and advocacy projects. At the core of their practice is the belief that those most impacted by the criminal justice system are the experts society needs to listen to, and that by connecting those directly affected with a multitude of community experts and political stakeholders, we can utilize art to create change on personal and systemic levels. Their projects have received multiple awards, fellowships, national residencies, and reached wide audiences through media outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, The Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, and VICE.

Visit the People’s Paper Co-op website

Artist portrait by Ryan Dennis. 

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CollectivismCourtney BowlesCriminal JusticeIdentityMark StrandquistPhiladelphiaPolicyRacial Justice