The Future is Free
Imagining a liberated future, Richmond youth worked with muralists, photographers, filmmakers, programmers, and radio producers to actualize a future where no young people are locked up. Together, their stories, dreams, and demands were transformed into a mural that comes to life.
In a moment when the legacy of our past makes painfully visible the challenges of the present, young people have illustrated a road map toward freedom.
By challenging societal norms and questioning everything, these brilliant young people demonstrate the power of dreams. Each narrative woven into the tapestry of a massive mural placed directly across from VCU Police Department, may force these officers to ask themselves critical questions in hopes that we can shape a world beyond prisons.
Vibrant portraits and symbolic objects are layered over colorful shapes and cosmic patterns. The art installation is 44 feet long x 8 feet tall on a wall at Third and Broad streets — one of the busiest intersections in the city of Richmond.
As viewers approach the mural, lights illuminate and audio recordings of youth recounting their vision a world without youth prisons play through installed speakers.
Through augmented reality, viewers can use their phone to play additional video and access more information on how to stay connected to the youth justice movement in Virginia through RISE for Youth.
Meet the Young People
Three days a week for four weeks, these five young people came together to imagine and illustrate the more positive future they want for everyone.
Through a four-week program led by Performing Statistics, in partnership with CodeVA and RISE for Youth, five young people planned out this mural and spoke about what a world without youth prisons means to them.
“I hope this is inspirational to others. I hope this inspires someone to go out and do something positive for the community. ”
“I feel like public art is going to always be there. It can affect the future. When the police officers look out their window and see the mural I hope they feel challenged to make a change.”
“I could be a hero to some kids and they could be like us.”
“You don’t have to be a specific age, you don’t have to be a specific color. I think anybody is capable of putting a hand in changing the world.”
“I’m very passionate about art. Being able to professionally paint a mural is never really an opportunity that everybody gets.”
Building a Mural from the Future
From start to finish these young people designed, produced and installed their artwork showing their attainable dream for a prison free future where everyone benefits.
The teens worked with Creative Director Mark Strandquist to direct their portraits and Artist Kate Decicco to weave together the visual elements they wanted to include, creating a cohesive aesthetic for the mural.
“It’s important to have a mural like this because a lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to do something like this. I really feel like I’m playing a big role in this mural because I get to tell my story. Seeing the mural come to life was like a dream come true.” — Kidaya, 18
“I feel like one day this mural will be something that tourists come to look at. Everybody’s mind isn’t going to be changed, but I think it can change some peoples minds. Because people will see the hard work and dedication that we have put into this project.” — Iyana, 15
“I’ve never spray painted before. My first time with spray painting was here.” — Kayla, 14
“I feel like people will learn that in engaging with this mural there are a lot of other options.” — Khai, 18
“You would normally think that I would never be able to create a city with my own hands, but guess what? I did it.” — Ta’Dreama, 14
“The roses on the mural are my favorite because they remind me of my grandmother.” — Kayla, 14
Bringing the Mural to Life
Young students, in 8th and 9th grade, from Code VA spent a few weeks after install working on coordinating the augmented reality components in addition to the sound and light features.
“I just want to know, who really got the idea to make a jail for children?” — Iyana, 15
They coded much of the complex code on their own, coming up with their own solutions to problems that arose. Both students were vocal in expressing themselves and sharing their own opinions around supporting prison abolition.
Unveiling Freedom Constellations to the World
On November 6, 2020, RISE for Youth, Code VA and Performing Statistics came together and unveiled Freedom Constellations at RVA First Fridays.
“The most beautiful thing in our future is the amount of happiness everyone will experience. The lack of pain. They’re smiling more, they’re walking with a purpose because they have no stress. They know that things will be okay.” — TaDreama, 14
Each young person spoke and shared moving words on how much this mural meant to them and their hope for a future where no young person is ever locked up.
“I hear happiness in the community and I feel SAFE,
No fear, no violence, no cry’s, no sirens.
I can feel the wind blowing past me and I feel free and at ease.
I smell the air and the love coming from the home cooked meals mothers cook for their children.
We can love ourselves.
We are together.
We are safe
We can shape our future,
We can finally heal
We are free.”
— excerpt from Freedom Constellations
As night fell the public used their smartphones to experience the augmented reality components of the mural. Each person that approached the mural is able to hear these young voices directly. The power of this mural places their stories, dreams and demands for a new future in plain view for all to experience and see.
Teaching artist Nicki Stein helped the teens record interviews and produce a radio broadcast from the future called New World Radio. This incredible broadcast plays when someone approaches the mural and triggers sensors in the wall.
Advocate and teaching artist Jasmine Leeward worked with the teens to create a film representing their poem about a future world without youth prisons. The film plays through augmented reality when people hover their phone over the mural.
QR codes embedded in the mural show viewers how they can get involved in the fight to end youth incarceration.
In 2019, Virginia spent an average of $187,179 per young person to incarcerate them at the state level.
In contrast, in 2019, Virginia spent an average of $12,931 per young person on public education.
We can end youth incarceration in our generation. For more information and resources please visit nokidsinprison.org
Youth muralists: Iyana, Kayla, Khai, Kidaya, Ta’Dreama
Lead muralists: Mark Strandquist and Kate DeCiccio
Creative assistant: Naila Lyles-Elcock
Mural assistant: Emily Ellingsworth
Audio/Video Teaching Artists: Jasmine Leeward and Nicki Stein
CodeVA Eureka Workshop instructors: Zach Mulcahey and Natasha Kovacs
Youth Technologists: I.Rodriguez and Jakson
This mural was supported, in part, by the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation and the Robins Foundation.
For more information visit www.performingstatistics.org