At Night in the Grand Court—A Renovation

From the Archives: A republished contribution from Whitewalls, A Journal of Art and Language #36, 1995

At Night in the Grand Court—A Renovation At Night in the Grand Court—A Renovation was an interdisciplinary art installation/event which took place on Friday, July 22, 1994 from 5 to 9pm at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (ccjtdc), 1100 S. Hamilton, Chicago. It was a collaboration by artist Michael Piazza and over 40 resident youth and staff. The youth, ages 15-17, are incarcerated while awaiting trial. (Due to the confidentiality stat-ute regarding minors, the names of the young people were restricted to their first names and the first initial of their last names. No photographs could be taken of them.) Many of the youth were present during the event to discuss their work, but their movements were restricted to certain secured sections of the center.

The whole event itself became a temporal site-specific installation which shifted away from traditional art venues to the actual location. This site-specificity was employed in order to focus on the ccjtdc and the youth incarcerated there, in order to raise questions through art about our growing penal industry and its ramification on culture. The completion of such a project ultimately depended upon the ensuing dialogues between various publics and the artists, i.e. educators, caseworkers, judges, parents, county employees and youth.

In keeping with theories of cultural production as critical pedagogy, the project focused on the development, process and approach to the ideas initiated by the youth. (Before producing specific works, art education workshops were set up to develop conceptual, technical and prob-lem solving skills to determine the essentials of the participants’ ideas in relation to proposed materials and methodologies.) The project presented the residents with alternative approaches to production by enabling individual agency and expression, as well as encouraging group consensus. In an environment of mutual reciprocity (we are all learners), it was an exploration of the collaborative process in the construction of culture through interdisciplinary/multi-media strategies and site-specific locations.

This was the first time in history that the ccjtdc had opened its doors to the public. This allowed the institution to become a contextual frame on which to reconfigure the works by the youth into an installation that, in turn, formed an integral whole. The works were strategically placed and interspersed with other personal, social and historical references and anecdotes. The administration, the Superintendent Jesse W. Doyle, gave its consent for works to appear on the outside facade, the entrance, stairways, reception area, intake area, and various rooms and halls throughout the second floor area. Arrangements were made for the event to be documented. Because normal operations had to be suspended for this to occur, the event could only take place during the aforementioned date and time.

This project was made possible by REACH (Realizing Artistic Choices), a program of the School of Art and Design, The University of Illinois at Chicago, and with the support of the CCJDTC. REACH is funded by the School of Art and Design/Polk Bros. Foundation Partnership. Photos by Roberta Dupuis-Devlin, Philip Schnieders and Michael Piazza.

Including works produced by: Melissa A., Tino A., Daryl B., Eric B., Robert B., Eunice C., Heggie C., Perry C., Anthony E., Shawn F., Carlton G. III, Tony G., Arlene H., Booker H., Delfert H., Derrick H., Pertlow H., Rick H., Simeon H., Antonio J., Lorenzo J., Shaun J., Dwayne L., Mac L., Michael L., Clara M., Idida M., Michael M., Davlin N., Chris P., Frank P., Louis S., Tony S., Yeftee S., Joshua T., Marcus T., Robert T., Tameka T., Anthony W., Chondell W., Jamal W., and Shannon W.