Artist, activist and educator Mark Strandquist brings his art and perspectives on prison reform to Harrisonburg Feb. 22-23. He will participate in exhibit opening, speak a panel discussion and give the Albert N. Keim Lecture. (Photos courtesy of the Performing Statistics project)

Artist-activist connects communities in and out of prison with bold public art projects

As an undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, Mark Strandquist began the “Windows from Prison” project that continues today. He asks incarcerated men, women, and teens to respond to the following question: “If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?”

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Artwork by incarcerated teens is silkscreened and printed by volunteers, then exhibited in pubic spaces.

The writing becomes a photo assignment for voluntary photographers around the country, and the result becomes publicly exhibited art that brings together people in diverse communities, humanizes the people who populate U.S. prisons, and raises questions about the U.S. penal system.

Strandquist, who graduated from VCU with a bachelor’s of fine arts in photography and film and a minor in sociology, has garnered both media attention and significant grants to continue his work. He has also started “Postcards from Prison,” and the People’s Paper Co-op, during which participants in the Philadelphia area work with lawyers and legal aid advocates to use their criminal records to create artwork that is then stitched into a giant quilt.

He’ll share more about both the “Windows from Prison” project and a newer project with a youth focus called “Performing Statistics” during a two-day visit to Harrisonburg, during which he’ll present the annual Albert N. Keim Lecture at Eastern Mennonite University.

Feb. 22: Exhibit opening and panel discussion at James Madison University

Strandquist will attend an opening reception for an exhibition of artwork from “Windows from Prison” and “Performing Statistics” from 5-7 p.m. at the New Image Gallery, 131 W. Grace St. in Harrisonburg. It runs Feb. 22 – April 8t. [For gallery hours, click here.]

From 7-8:30 p.m. at Duke Hall Gallery Court, Strandquist participates in a panel discussion titled “Youth, Art and Justice: ethics, engagement and action” with Howard Zehr, co-director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice and an artist and photographer who was worked in and among prisoners; Jeree Thomas, an attorney with Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, Virginia; and youth members from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Youth Council, Office on Children and Youth, Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services at JMU.

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Artwork is paraded through the streets in Richmond.

Parking is available on Grace St in Lots C5 and R14 adjacent to 131 West Grace Street (where New Image Gallery is housed) and Lot C6 across the street. No parking permits will be necessary.

Feb. 22: Exhibit opening at EMU

A concurrent exhibition, featuring art from the “Performing Statistics” project, will be at EMU’s Hartzler Gallery located on the main floor of EMU’s Sadie Hartzler Library from Feb. 22 – March 24. [For gallery hours, click here.]

Feb. 23: Albert N. Keim Lecture at EMU

Strandquist presents the Albert N. Keim Lecture at 7 p.m. in Martin Chapel at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. His topic is Performing Statistics: Connecting incarcerated youth, artists, and leading policy experts to challenge Virginia’s juvenile justice system.”

Performing Statistics is a project which connects incarcerated teens with a group of artists, designers, educators and Virginia’s leading policy advocates to transform the juvenile justice system. The summer art and advocacy initiative began last summer, when three days a week, a group of incarcerated youth from the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center came to Atlas, ART 180’s teen art center. There they worked with local artists to produce a series of media campaigns and mobile exhibitions.

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Additional exhibitions will take place in Duke Hall critique space and at Laughing Dog Gallery, 82 S. Main St., Harrisonburg, which will host a reception from 5-8 p.m. on March 4, during the First Friday Downtown event. The exhibit will be open from March 4-25.  Check for updates.

Project sponsors

Strandquist’s visit is supported by the Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action; The School of Art, Design and Art History; the sociology and anthropology departments; New Image Gallery; and The Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Service, all at JMU.  It is in partnership with the history and visual and communication arts departments at EMU, and Tom Brenneman and Cooperative By Design. It is co-hosted by OFAR, an artist residency in Harrisonburg focusing on social justice.