By Aubriella Jackson

Fallen angels, birds, shackles, and small handprints. These paintings are far more than just pictures. Children made this art in Illinois jails. “Can you see me?”, the exhibition, at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery in the River West neighborhood of Chicago, presents artwork by incarcerated young people, contemporary artists, and arts-justice organizations exploring themes of ascendance, innocence, and freedom.

“Can You See Me?” – Aubriella Jackson, Columbia College Chicago, reporting.

“These are kids and not criminals,” said Devon VanHouten-Maldonado, SkyART Director of Programs. “We over criminalize our Black and Brown communities.” VanHouten-Maldonado believes some youth from poverty-stricken communities are never given the chance to be innocent.

Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities as their white peers, according to The Sentencing Project. Forty-one percent of youths in placement are Black, even though Black Americans comprise only 15 percent of all youth across the United States.

The three-part presentation is a partnership with South Side youth arts non-profit SkyART; inspired by its Just-Us program, which provides weekly open studio-style art therapy sessions for incarcerated youth.

“I think they’re doing a really great job (SkyART) because it’s giving these kids a way to express themselves,” said, Raven Quintero. A visitor at the River West exhibit, Quintero agreed that healing through art is a positive channel.

VanHouten-Maldonado said art therapy gives youth the platform to explore their challenging circumstances and express themselves in a creative and productive manner. “Art programs that address social emotional learning are more effective than incarceration.”

The “Can you see me?” exhibition, Weinberg/Newton Gallery, River West

The three exhibitions include:

• The primary Can you see me? exhibition at Weinberg/Newton Gallery runs until Dec. 17, 2022

• Arts + Public Life presenting FREEDOM SPACE, runs through Dec. 16, 2022.

• SkyART presenting Can you see me? Envisioning the future at their flagship studio space in South Chicago (3026 E 91st St.) runs through Dec. 17, 2022.

Aubriella Jackson is from Metropolis, Illinois. She is a junior, TV broadcast journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. All photos and video for this story were shot by Ms. Jackson.

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