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ESP Awarded $500,000 Grant to Advance Work on Criminal Justice Reform

The Art For Justice Fund selects Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site as a 2018 grant recipient

December 17, 2018

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Art For Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, to advance its work on criminal justice reform. The grant is a meaningful investment in Eastern State’s long-term vision, which includes a multistage project culminating in the construction of a state-of-the-art visitor center.

Bolstered by this award, Eastern State anticipates breaking ground on the preliminary phase of this project in the winter of 2019. This early work will lay the foundation necessary for future construction of the visitor center, which will be completed in stages as funding is secured in the years to come.

The addition of a new visitor center will allow Eastern State to better serve its growing audience of more than 250,000 visitors and 20,000 students each year. Visitors to this National Historic Landmark will one day be welcomed into a climate-controlled atrium with dramatic views of the penitentiary’s stone tower looming through a glass ceiling above. The visitor center will improve visitor flow, increase access to the site for people of all abilities, and provide modern restrooms.

In service of Eastern State’s new mission, the atrium of the visitor center will also permit for increased programming on issues of contemporary corrections. The space will allow Eastern State to host discussions with national thought leaders and policy makers, and to develop additional permanent and changing exhibits. These public programs will advance Eastern State’s ongoing work as a national center for dialogue around some of the most critical issues facing the United States today.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site joins 31 other grantees—organizations, advocates, writers and artists that share a common goal of reforming and shifting the narrative around America’s criminal justice system—in the Fund’s third cohort. Since it was established in 2017, the Fund has awarded more than $40 million to 100 grantees. Previous grant recipients include the Vera Institute of Justice, Equal Justice Initiative, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, as well as Philadelphia-based artists Jesse Krimes and Russell Craig and Mural Arts Philadelphia.

About The Art For Justice Fund:
The Art For Justice Fund connects the generosity of collectors with the creativity of artists and the ingenuity of advocates to help solve the crisis of mass incarceration. They believe in the enduring power of art to call for change, to expose injustice, and to empower communities. Agnes Gund is a philanthropist and art collector who is seeding the Art for Justice Fund by donating the proceeds from the sale of art in her collection, and encouraging other art patrons to do the same. The Ford Foundation has partnered with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) to manage the grantmaking of the fund.

About the Ford Foundation:
The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization that has for more than 80 years worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide. Ford will provide programmatic expertise and cover operating costs of the Fund so that 100 percent of contributed funds are allocated directly to grants and program-related contracts.

About Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors:
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) is one of the world’s largest philanthropic advisory services and has facilitated over $3 billion of giving in 50+ countries. RPA is providing programmatic, advisory and governance support to the Fund.

About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site interprets the legacy of American criminal justice reform, from the nation’s founding through to the present day, within the long-abandoned cellblocks of the nation’s most historic prison.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held approximately 80,000 men and women during its 142 years of operation, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is open for tours seven days a week, year-round. Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; Hands-On History interactive experiences; history exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.

In recent years, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has been awarded the prestigious Excellence in Exhibitions award by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the nation’s highest award in exhibition development and design, for its exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, as well as the Institutional Award for Special Achievement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and the Trustee Emeritus Award for Stewardship from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Returning Citizens Tour Guide Project, which hires people who were formerly incarcerated to lead tours of the historic site, has won the EdCom Award for Innovation in Museum Education by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and has been featured internationally by such networks as the BBC and others.

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2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner