Grant Spotlight: Art Against the Odds
Can the creative process transform individual lives and help us understand more about the more than 41,000 people who are living in Wisconsin’s prisons and jails? Debra Brehmer, the curator of an exhibition called Art Against the Odds, notes there are more incarcerated people making art than you might think, often without support, formal programs, materials, or instruction.
The exhibition opened in January 2023 with 250 works by 65 currently or formally incarcerated individuals. The artworks exhibited range from a series of concentric circles made daily with pencil on typing paper, to highly detailed portraits, to hand-built models of homes and landscapes. Visitors can read written testimonies from the creators about the meaning, process, and context of the submissions while learning more about the experience of incarceration in Wisconsin.
“Art Against the Odds defines the act of art-making not only as a creative pastime but as a lifesaving tool of self-definition and self-determination for those who have been removed from society,” Brehmer wrote in her own description of the project.
The exhibition, organized by the Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art in Milwaukee, was funded in part by a grant from Wisconsin Humanities. To see some of the artwork and learn more about the exhibit tour, visit www.artagainsttheodds.com.
80 grants totalling over $588,000 were awarded with federal and private funds to nonprofit organizations in fiscal year 2022. 46 were special WH Recovery Grants that helped organizations respond to and recover from the pandemic. The year’s 34 mini and major grants supported community-based humanities programs throughout the state.
This summer a second season of our Human Powered podcast will be ready for your ears! This time, we teamed up former Wisconsin Poet Laureate, performance artist, and change agent Dasha Kelly Hamilton with public historian Adam Carr to bring you remarkable stories of people inside and outside Wisconsin prisons who are using the humanities to overcome the dehumanization of incarceration. The resulting stories challenge us to imagine a more just system—one that is good for all of us.
As the first year of Community Powered, Wisconsin Humanities’ new grassroots community resilience initiative, wraps up this May, we are excited to share more about the community-led projects that grew from the community engagement work of WH’s local staff.