New York

Art programme that keeps minor offenders out of court at risk of defunding

New York City might pull the budget for Project Reset, which has helped 4,500 people stay out of the criminal justice system and find a second chance through art

Graduates of the programmes Project Reset and Young New Yorkers have taken part in a virtual exhibition with MoMA PS1

Project Reset, a New York-programme that started last year and allows perpetrators of minor nonviolent offenses to take an art class at the Brooklyn Museum instead of having to appear in court, has teamed up with another arts-based diversion programme, Young New Yorkers, to host an exhibition in MoMA PS1’s virtual courtyard. The digital viewing experience is overlaid with the audio of alumni sharing their personal stories about how the programmes helped them stay out of the criminal justice system. But if city funding is not found for it, Project Reset may have to be shut down this year, warns its founder, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

“Project Reset is one of the most valuable tools we have to address low-level offenses. When you can prevent someone who is arrested for a low-level offense from entering the criminal justice system—and instead offer them a meaningful intervention through art, therapy, and other forms of restorative justice—you spare them the consequences of a criminal conviction, help them recognise and change behaviours, and ideally prevent future arrests,” Vance tells The Art Newspaper. “Especially today, when criminal justice reform and jail reduction are priorities for New Yorkers, it would be a shame to end this critical programme.”

In the past year, Project Reset has helped more than 4,500 people find a positive, enriching alternative to the criminal justice system. But according to an op-ed in the New York Daily News co-written by Vance, the organisation may dissolve after this year, since the city plans to pull its funding. But the cost of the programme “pales in comparison to the savings it offers in improved court efficiency, faster case processing times and, most importantly, reduced misdemeanor convictions, which disproportionately impede people of color from obtaining employment, education and housing,” the comment piece states.

A virtual reception was held for the exhibition earlier this month, with alumni of Young New Yorkers and Project Reset, as well guest speakers Calder Zwicky, MoMA’s assistant director for teen and community partnerships, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, and Rachel Barnard, the founder of Young New Yorkers. The evening also included testimonials of dozens of graduates of both programmes. MoMA PS1's current exhibition Marking Time: Art in the Era of Mass Incarceration, features more than 35 artists reckoning with the havoc US punitive justice wreaks on every level: individual, familial, societal.

“All young people should have the chance to grow,” Zwicky said during the reception, “that’s a cornerstone of what Rachel [Barnard] is trying to do with Young New Yorkers and it's a cornerstone of the philosophy that we have at MoMA when it comes to working with young audiences. All people should have a chance to be exposed to art, to be given chances to share their visions with the world. Especially in New York City, not all people have that opportunity.”