Two giant murals by street artist Shepard Fairey loom over the streets of Philadelphia’s Center City: One features James Anderson, a former Los Angeles gang member who now works to keep others out of prison; the other depicts Amira Mohamed, a formerly incarcerated architecture student.
Commissioned by Mural Arts Philadelphia, the works are part of a project designed to give a face, literally, to the phenomenon of mass incarceration in the United States. Now, they are also a big reason why the nonprofit has garnered one of the first grants awarded by Agnes Gund‘s newly established Art for Justice Fund.
On Wednesday, the fund—founded this summer by the arts patron to support criminal-justice reform—disbursed $22 million in grants to 30 organizations, with awards ranging from $100,000 to $7.5 million. Mural Arts, the main visual-arts organization in this first round of grantees, won a $200,000 award for its ongoing efforts to shed light on the problem of mass incarceration.
Gund established the Art for Justice Fund with proceeds from the sale of Roy Lichtenstein‘s Masterpiece (1962), which she sold for $165 million. She put $100 million aside to establish the fund, managed by the Ford Foundation.
The issue of mass incarceration—and its disproportionate impact on people of color—has come to the fore in recent years amid a rising national conversation about the country’s criminal justice system. A small sample of the damning statistics illustrates why: America accounts for some 25 percent of those incarcerated worldwide; it spends a whopping $80 billion on corrections annually; and it jails black children (minors under 18) at a rate five times higher than it does white children.