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ESP to Commission and Screen Animated Films by Currently-Incarcerated Artists

Films will be projected onto the façade of this historic prison-turned-museum for 29 nights

February 27, 2019

Philadelphia, PA (February 27, 2019) – Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site will debut its latest project, Hidden Lives Illuminated, on August 15, 2019. The series will feature nightly screenings of newly-commissioned, animated short films created by currently-incarcerated artists living in Pennsylvania correctional institutions.

Using a concert-grade digital projector, films will be screened onto a 20-by-30-foot area of Eastern State’s façade each night from August 15 through September 12, 2019. A total of 21 original short films will be shown throughout the month, offering a rare look inside America’s correctional system, conceieved, narrated and animated by incarcerated people. Screenings will be free and open to the public, and content will be appropriate for people of all ages.

The nightly screenings will be grouped into four themed weeks, each addressing subjects such as “Community and Family Impact” or “Restorative Justice.” During a given week, audiences will see about five original short films that touch on that week’s theme. Additional animated guest films, all created by filmmakers close to the criminal justice system, will round out the nightly screenings.

During each screening, additional programs will feature presentations by scholars, community leaders, activists, artists, victims’ advocates, and elected officials. Hands-on activities will provide families a chance to reflect on the films and discuss social and criminal justice issues.

The project will culminate in a one-night festival on September 12, during which all 21 original films will be screened back to back. A documentary film about the artists will play inside the historic site’s cellblocks.

“Eastern State Penitentiary is committed to deepening the conversation about criminal justice reform in the United States. With Hidden Lives Illuminated, we can structure these conversations around the literal voices of men and women living inside prisons today,” said Sean Kelley, senior vice president and project lead. “Prisons are some of the most inaccessible spaces in America. After all, prison walls don’t just keep incarcerated people in, they keep the public out. We want to use our wall to illuminate the lives of people living inside these institutions that are so often misunderstood, or worse, ignored.”

Hidden Lives Illuminated has been in development for three years. Teaching artists employed by Eastern State Penitentiary have been leading classes in storytelling, screen writing, narration and animation inside Pennsylvania correctional institutions since the summer of 2018. The project was inspired by "Freedom/Time," a project orchestrated by artist Damon Locks and developed with the Jane Addams Hull House and Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project. “Freedom/Time” was presented by the 96 Acres Project in Chicago, September 15, 2015.

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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Pew Center for Arts & Heritage LogoHidden Lives Illuminated has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner