Most days I’m surrounded by people who have been scarred by violence, lost loved ones to homicide, sacrificed years to prison. As both an artist and Director of Public Policy at a criminal justice reform organization, I make paintings and policies, in equal measure. I have been lucky to help fight for some meaningful systems change, including the “Unshackling Pregnant Prisoners” bill in Rhode Island, Probation Reform bills, “Ban the Box” legislation, and the far-reaching Community–Police Relationship Act, among others. These are extensions of the paintings, and the paintings are generative spaces for the organizing. I think artists should feel embedded, indebted, and integral to the efforts to end cash bail, to outlaw housing discrimination, to protect abortion rights, and on and on.
If we believe, as I do, that our historical positioning influences the present operation of our society, then the same must be true of a life. Policy change requires the imagining of something new. The artist isn’t just the picture-maker, but the historian, the griot, the architect, the organizer.