When John Runowicz first picked up an instrument at age 12, it was love at first sound. “It’s part of who I am,” he says. A singer, songwriter, guitarist and ethnomusicologist, John’s passion and deep knowledge of music shapes his role as manager of Fortune’s Creative Arts program. Here, participants find harmony between their feelings and positive outlets for expressing them. For some, this path to possibility is a brand-new discovery: As John shares, “People [often] say ‘I’ve never had a chance to explore this side of myself.’”
Under his leadership, the Creative Arts program at Fortune has many artistic paths for that exploration to occur, including drawing classes taught by Guy Woodard, hip hop dance in partnership with the Mark Morris Dance Group, an animation workshop brought by The Animation Project (TAP), theater in partnership with The Public Theater, creative writing, music, and more.
This strong element of creativity has been a core part of The Fortune Society since our inception. In fact, Fortune was birthed out of the impact of the 1967 off-Broadway play Fortune and Men’s Eyes, which our founder David Rothenberg produced. “[David has] always been involved with the arts,” John notes.
A deeper level of structure was added to the organization’s creative foundation when John joined five years ago. Through key partnerships with people-minded organizations, the Creative Arts program at Fortune has had tremendous impact on participants in our Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) program and beyond. “All that kind of positive reinforcement [that art provides] leads people away from being involved in bad behavior,” says John. It also prepares them for success offstage. Boosts in confidence and self esteem empower them to consider new educational prospects or employment opportunities with added levels of comfort. Regarding people who’ve participated in the program, John notes, “If you’re going for a job interview, you’re already used to being in front of people.”
As Fortune’s recognition as a leader in reentry and criminal justice reform grows, so do new opportunities to add more resources to the Creative Arts roster: “We’re always looking to expand,” says John. This year, for instance, we’re partnering with RoadRecovery, an organization that utilizes the power of music and peer support to help youth overcome substance use and other adversities. Every Thursday, participants in our ATI program will engage in creative workshops that will culminate in live music events and recordings. Continued expansion like this all points back to great chances for lasting success within our participants’ lives, turning them away from incarceration and toward powerful methods of communication, instead. As John shares, “Some of the anger, anxiety, and loneliness [one may be] feeling can be put into theater pieces and drawing.”
Now in our 50th year, we look forward to keeping creativity at the core of our model for successful reentry. Indeed, justice-involved individuals thriving with the skills taught through services like our Creative Arts program is sweet music that all within the community can enjoy.