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ASU art professor recognized for research into criminal justice system

Gregory Sale, assistant professor in the ASU School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, has been named a 2013 Art Matters grantee. The foundation’s grant program provides support for socially engaged artistic projects, awarding grants to artists who break ground aesthetically and socially while addressing local, national and global concerns. Each year, a group of recognized artists, curators and arts leaders nominates established and mid-career artists.

“Art Matters is a 30-year-old funding organization that supports ‘art that matters,’” said Ariene Jenik, director of the School of Art. “The list of 2013 awardees places Sale’s socially engaged arts practice alongside internationally celebrated artists James Luna, Steve Kurtz and Carolee Schneemann. Sale’s work here in Phoenix with formerly incarcerated individuals is gaining recognition, and when added to activities at the ASU Art Museum, establishes ASU as a leader in this field.”

The award from Art Matters recognizes Sale for “Sleepover,” a new investigation into the social systems of “mass de-incarceration” and the multifaceted issues faced by individuals reentering society after periods of incarceration. Sale says, “I often contemplate the capacity of art to help us all grapple with complex social problems that have no easy answers.”

“Sleepover” emerges from Sale’s ongoing research into the criminal justice system and the cultural fabric of punishment and discipline, particularly here in the American West. Sale is most known for his 2011 project, “It’s not just black and white,” at the ASU Art Museum, for which he worked together with inmates from Maricopa County Jail to paint black-and-white stripes on the gallery walls. This installation served as a backdrop for a 52-event program consisting of visual exhibitions, dance, public forums and workshops, involving 37 institutional partners and close to 20,000 visitors.

As his relationships with these formerly incarcerated individuals continue today, Sale has witnessed families and communities hard-pressed to welcome them home, the daunting task of finding work and a pervasive lack of trust. These real life experiences sparked his new exploration into mass de-incarceration.

For “Sleepover,” Sale plans to convene a core group of returning citizens, crime victims, criminal justice workers, faith-based service providers, politicians and others. This core group will work together over an extended time period to reconsider their understandings of re-entry and their relationships to one another. Together they will help co-create a series of interrelated discussions and engagement activities in shared-intimate spaces, including overnight stays together. Some of these events will open to the public and media.

Because relationships take years to develop, Sale is currently looking for long-term commitments from cultural institutions and social agencies, and hopes to establish some meaningful collaboration with his colleagues in other disciplines at ASU.

deborah.sussman@asu.edu