The Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department in partnership with the Orange County Arts Commission announce the opening of Our Lens, Our Voice, a photography and emotional expression project that reframes and refocuses narratives of justice-impacted youth. The photography exhibit will open to the public on Friday, April 29th from 5-8pm at the Orange County Courthouse (106 E. Margaret Ln.) as part of Hillsborough’s Last Fridays ArtWalk. In addition to the exhibit, attendees will enjoy live music and spoken word artists.
In September 2020, Criminal Justice and the Arts Commission, together with photographer Emily Baxter and artivist Soteria Shepperson, created Our Lens, Our Voice, where justice-impacted youth used photography and poetry to create a series of anonymous photographs using meaningful words and phrases as prompts. All cameras and supplies were provided, thanks to the generosity of community members. The exhibit will feature the final photographs together with named emotional experiences by each participant.
Growing positive outcomes have led to creative expression becoming a more commonly used tool for engaging justice-involved individuals. A study by the California Department of Corrections showed six months after release, rates of parole violation for arts-in-corrections participants were 15 percent lower than nonparticipants; after two years, this difference climbed to 30 percent1. Seventy-five percent of program participants had fewer disciplinary infractions than nonparticipants2.
Involvement in the arts is also critical for student outcomes. Students engaged in arts learning have higher GPAs and standardized test scores and are two times more likely to graduate college4. Low-income students who participate in the arts, both in school and after school, have a dropout rate of just 4 percent—five times lower than their peers3. Participation in after-school arts programs causes juvenile crime to fall by 4.2 percent on average, and slightly more (5.4 percent) in lower-income cities4.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Soteria Shepperson is an artivist (artist and activist), poet, educator, performer and advocate. Through her work in prisons, homeless shelters, local community colleges, and beyond, she empowers marginalized individuals to find their voice through movements of belonging and self-expression.
As a reentry specialist, she assisted formerly incarcerated individuals as they adjusted to society, connecting them with resources such as housing and job support, while using creative expression to help them redefine their story. Soteria has performed at venues including the International Civil Rights Museum (Greensboro, NC), the Carolina Theatre (Durham, NC), Red Hat Amphitheater (Raleigh, NC) and the Raleigh Convention Center. She was a featured performer at the 2019 and 2020 Women’s March in Raleigh, NC. She is co-founder of Grow Your World, a nonprofit organization focused on youth-driven community engagement, grounded in the belief that equity and access create a win-win-win for people, community, and the planet.
In 2019, Soteria launched I AM SOTERIA & FRIENDS, a project that elevates suppressed, creative voices of the world and contributes to the movement of equity, hope, and justice for all. Since its launch, the series has featured seven events focused on the themes of Unity & Justice, Juneteenth, Hip Hop, Turning the Tables and how they relate to the world as a whole. You can find out more about how art transforms spaces by visiting her coffee shop in Carrboro, NC called Present Day on Main. Learn more at www.iamsoteria.com.
Emily Baxter is the founder and director of We Are All Criminals (WAAC), a photo and story-based catalyst for conversations about race, class, privilege, and punishment. Prior to this, Emily served as the director of advocacy and public policy at the Council on Crime and Justice and as an assistant public defender representing members of the Leech Lake and White Earth Bands of Ojibwe. She is an activist and photographer, working with families, community groups, and national organizations to highlight injustices and amplify the voices and stories of people most impacted by our criminal legal system. Emily lives in Durham where, in addition to her work with WAAC, she serves as the director of the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, in recognition that our legal system will never be just so long as death is on the table.