BAIA Project: Prison Renaissance
By Savannah Lira, Program Officer
At the start of 2020, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF) awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $5,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco, Alameda, and San Mateo Counties. The following is a report from one of those awardees, Netta Wang. Her project, Prison Renaissance, has spent the past six months creating multiple initiatives to work with incarcerated individuals impacted by COVID-19, particularly in San Quentin where the number of infected inmates has grown to over 500 in just a few weeks.
At the end of last year, I mobilized a team of several Stanford students to work on this project with me, since I knew it was a big undertaking. We spent the first few months of this year planning for a magazine launch and art exhibit by spring, near the end of our academic year. We were planning on featuring 10 student and incarcerated artist pairs across 3 prisons in California. However, once campus shut down due the pandemic, we re-diverted our efforts to supporting incarcerated individuals in prison directly, by sharing information and legal resources through phone and mail.
In June, COVID-19 reached San Quentin State Prison, where most of our artists are, after the state sanctioned a transfer from a known hot-spot prison to SQSP. It was a completely avoidable outbreak, and I was outraged. I mobilized the now-remote team to come together and create a COVID-19 version of the magazine we had initially imagined. Within two weeks, we created a magazine, a media toolkit for sharing our work, and a phone-banking zine launch event to demand the Governor to act immediately.
Over 50 people showed up to our virtual event and phone-banked for two hours. Alongside many other activists, we were successfully able to push Gov. Newsom to release 8,000 more incarcerated individuals around the state.
For the rest of the year, we plan to keep supporting incarcerated artists through this pandemic, and begin planning for the next magazine (the one we had originally planned for spring). While the group will continue to be remote for the rest of the calendar year, and communication in and out of prisons remains incredibly limited (more so than it already was), we are determined and stubborn to see freedom through the arts.