What a night! Thank you all for being such wonderful participants in the Final Exhibition "Artist Advocates" of our latest 8-Week Arts Diversion Program. We were thrilled to welcome our criminal justice partners and members of the community to the glittering gold interactive art installation, designed by our young New Yorkers. Our young graduates are on their way to having their cases dismissed and sealed—no adult criminal record. Well done, all! If you weren't able to make the exhibition, read on for a tour of the night. We say it all the time, but we cannot overstate the importance and value of giving our amazing young people the experience of being heard. Thank you. —The Young New Yorkers

All photos in this post by Sina B. Hickey


Our Stories Are Bigger than our Cases

In class we talked about what makes someone an advocate. Who are our advocates in the context of our criminal cases? Who are our advocates in the courtroom? How can we be advocates for ourselves? And how can we be advocates for something bigger than ourselves? That is, by being an advocate, can we be a contribution to the world? Our young New Yorkers invited guests to connect with them by participating in a game they designed. In this game, the process of becoming justice-involved was re-imagined, and guests were given the opportunity to advocate for themselves. The game consisted of several steps. Follow along to experience the installation. Hover over each image for more details.

STEP 1: You are arrested and charged as an adult in New York at 16 years old. You “catch a case."

All guests entered the first room in the golden labyrinth. Each chose a case described on a card. Each case told the story of either a past or present young New Yorker. Guests followed the cases to their conclusions.

STEP 2: Advocate for yourself. Can you become known, by the courts, beyond your rap sheet? Guests created masks by collaging images that represent who they are and what their strengths are. They were given the opportunity to symbolize their future goals on the masks.

STEP 3: Complete your mandate before your next court date. Make your story bigger than your case.

Guests completed their allegorical mandates by trying to remember what life was like at 16 years old. Guests collected memories on various props—hats, brooches, and flags—that allowed them to be known as they were when they were the same age as our court-involved participants.

STEP 4: Appear in court to have your case dismissed and sealed. Avoid a lifelong adult criminal record at 16 years old.

When guests completed their mandate, they returned to court to have their cases dismissed and sealed—in the game, they had their portraits taken with their mask and props.

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