Art and Youthful Offenders in Charlotte

Categories: ASC, Blog

By Jackie Chang

Jackie Chang
Photo by: Joseph Matunis

When I finished the installation at the Youthful Offender Facility at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg North Jail in March 2009, I had thought that I would never have another opportunity to see the pieces installed. It was eight sets of art glass panels in each of the facility’s cell pod dayroom areas (each pod had a group of 12 individual cells).   The facility is designed for male youthful offenders between the ages of 16 and 17 awaiting trial or sentencing.

Was/Am/Will Be, 2009
Photo by: JoAnn Sieburg-Baker

On July 17 this summer, I was given the chance to visit the facility and speak to the current offenders about the project and the artwork.  I had specifically placed the artwork where every young offender will be able to see it.  I wanted the work to reflect the passing of time, the possibility of growth, a sense of the individual as part of greater whole, and use a graphic aesthetic that would not be sentimental.  I also wanted to use glass as a contrast to the other surfaces and materials found in the cell pods which were very sturdy and hard.  The glass panels would mimic windows, dividers between the outside and the inside. In order to stay within budget and to be able to have pieces in all eight pods, I created one composition that could be repeated with different background colors to give each set of panels a different distinction. The final composition had the image on the glass refer to the outside and the text evoking the passage of time.

Was/Am/Will Be, 2009
Photo by: JoAnn Sieburg-Baker

That day I presented to the offenders turned out to be one of the proudest moments of my life.  I felt that the work was understood and appreciated by youthful offenders who respectfully paid attention to my talk and gave truly thoughtful insight into the artwork.  The project was made possible through the efforts of many guided by the Arts & Science Council.  It was a project of hope, the hope that art can inspire and that it can happen in the most seemingly unlikely places.

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