John Runowicz, Manager of Creative Arts at The Fortune Society

The Power of the Arts to Heal, Transform, and Grow

Monday, May 2, 2016

Fortune acknowledges and provides resources to support the important and positive role that the creative arts play in the transition of formerly incarcerated individuals back into the community. Studies show that participation in the arts can be therapeutic and play a vital role in the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals with criminal justice involvement. Music, theater, and visual art provide Fortune clients with a means of expressing internalized emotions and channeling negative experiences into meaningful creations. Through these activities, justice-involved individuals are able to heal, transform, learn, and grow.

To celebrate the role of the arts in the lives of those transitioning back into the community, The Fortune Society hosted its third annual Arts Festival during the week of April 18th. Eleven events showcased our clients’ extraordinary musical, theatrical, and visual artistic talents. In addition to featuring our Music Cafe performers and the Fortune Teller actors, we presented a special performance of the acclaimed play The Vagina Monologues and our own theatrical work, The Castle. Also on display was the artwork created by clients in Guy Woodward’s drawing class and a short video created in collaboration with The Animation Project. Other presentations included Fortune’s Playground (our improv theater workshop), The Media for Social Justice Exhibition, and The Theater of the Oppressed Workshop. We are all extremely proud and impressed by the talents and dedication of both Fortune clients and staff. This collective effort again resulted in making the Arts Festival a resounding success.

The majority of Fortune’s clients come from neighborhoods lacking in resources and with little access to the facilities and materials needed to facilitate access to arts programs. Through partnerships with organizations such as the Museum of Modern Art, The Public Theater, the New Museum, and The Animation Project, we are able host workshops and classes that connect our clients with the tools necessary to harness their creativity. As demonstrated by this year’s Arts Festival, the results and impact have been truly extraordinary.

In addition, Arts Connect and Media for Social Justice generously donated two new art installations that we have been able to display throughout our Long Island City location. The Media for Social Justice Exhibition interviewed Fortune clients and used their stories to create a poster installation on display for the Festival.

With the assistance of The Vagina Monologues and Public Theater’s Public Works program, we have been able to give our clients the opportunity to participate and engage in live theatrical performances. We also showcased performances from our workshop-based theatre troupe for formerly incarcerated veterans made possible through a partnership with the Theatre of the Oppressed. The Fortune Tellers, Fortune’s acting troupe led by Lucas Caleb Rooney and Sarah Grosman of the Public Theater’s Public Works program, inspired our clients to break out of their shells and try something new and exciting. Our partners have helped us create strong and meaningful connections between professional artists and our community members.

Many have been deeply moved by the intricate work of Guy Woodward, who started ballpoint drawing behind bars and teaches a class whose artwork was on display at the Festival.  As art history shows us, some of the greatest works of art are inspired by artists’ raw experiences and personal struggles, and this too was reflected in the Arts Festival through each and every piece and performance.

Developing a Creative Arts program for Fortune clients is a relatively new effort, as it is for many arts and criminal justice funders. Fortune is committed to the success of the program and continues to develop programming partners and activities to engage those we serve. By responding to each individual’s basic human need for creative self-development, autonomy, and expression, Fortune’s Creative Arts program will continue to carry out Fortune’s mission and help rebuild lives.

Here are some of the many highlights from this year’s Arts Festival:

The Arts Festival kicked off with “Music Café.” This artistic showcase allows Fortune’s music students, clients, and staff to perform and express themselves. In this video, Anthony Cruz, a former client, sings “Stand by me” by Ben E. King.

We LOVE you Vilma! Powerful stories and words from the cast members of “The Castle” about their struggles and personal victories before, during, and after prison during the last event of the #FortuneArtsFestival. #reentry #prisonreform #storytelling #artsforsocialchange

A video posted by The Fortune Society (@fortunesociety) on

“The Castle” play told the story of four formerly imprisoned New Yorkers and their journeys through crime, privation, and redemption. Check out the story by the Queens Chronicle here.

The Fortune Tellers is Fortune’s very own acting troupe. They write their own original scenes and perform them in front of a live audience. Led by Lucas Caleb Rooney and Sarah Grosman of the Public Theater’s Public Works program, the troupe performed numerous acts including a skit called “The Red Tale of The Scorpion’s Tail.”

A Fortune client drawing during Guy Woodard's art class

Guy Woodward made a name for himself through his incredible ballpoint drawings, a skill he harnessed while he was behind bars. He now teaches a weekly art class here at Fortune for our clients.

 A person observing a piece of art donated by Art Connects;

Art Connects is a non-profit organization that works to connect artists and curators with social service agencies in NYC. They donated 21 art works that now live in Fortune’s Long Island City location. The artists’ pieces represent Fortune’s mission of providing opportunities to people trying to find their own path or “true north.”

A woman performing The Vagina Monologues for Fortune clients during the Fortune Arts Festival
The Vagina Monologues,” was performed by a varying number of women during the second day of our Arts Festival. Each monologue dealt with a specific aspect of the feminine experience. Check out the story by NY1 here.

 Two people from The Fortune Society and The Theater of the Oppressed performing in the play Honorable Discharge: We Got Dissed
The Fortune Society and Theater of the Oppressed partnered to create “Honorable Discharge: We Got Dissed,” a forum play based on the real-life experiences of veterans with criminal justice involvement. The play addressed issues of neglect, homelessness, and joblessness.

An individual standing next to a photograph taken by Proof: Media for Social Justice

Proof: Media for Social Justice, a nonprofit that uses photography and other media to raise awareness of social justice issues, produced a series of posters featuring Fortune clients and staff members to spark discourse and promote policy changes.

You can see more pictures  of this year’s Arts Festival on our Flickr album.



Categories: Community


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