I’m grateful that Recess has truly helped me to acknowledge my own story and how I tell it.” –Assembly Graduate & Peer Leader

The Program: Assembly offers those caught up in the justice system an inroad to art and connections to working artists and serves as an alternative to incarceration while empowering young people to take charge of their own life story and envision a career in the arts. Once participants complete the program prosecutors may close and seal their cases, allowing youth to avoid an adult record.  Participants may stay involved at Recess through paid, long-term training and arts engagement.

The Data: According to 2015 data from the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Black and Latino youth make up 33% of the state population but 72% of all arrests and 77% of felony arrests. This population also represents 82% of youth that receive adult sentencing. At Recess we believe artists are uniquely situated to address systemic oppression due to the creative toolkit they possess and their ability to offer nuanced perspectives when examining inequity.

Assembly Details

● Participants: Program participants are individuals aged 18-25.  We host two simultaneous cohorts that serve youth who are convicted of misdemeanor offenses and youth convicted of criminal possession of a weapon or “gun charges.”

The Court Mandate: Participants in Cohort 1 meet in dedicated classroom space for two hours each week across four-week cycles. Cohort 2 is rolling, and participation may last up to two years in length, avoiding up to 15-year prison sentences.  In both cases, after participants complete the program prosecutors may close and seal their cases, allowing youth to avoid an adult record.

Curriculum: Through storytelling and performance the Assembly curriculum first points out the flaws in the generalized and false narrative of the “criminal,” and then seeks to replace these stereotypes with nuanced, individual accounts defined by their emotional and subjective content.  Our goal is to lend agency and power to each narrator by supporting them as they tell their story on their own terms.

Long-term engagement: Assembly offers participants paid opportunities to build upon their storytelling and performance skills. These elective opportunities offer paid training, internships, and employment as well as the opportunity to work closely with our artists and our organization for up to 24 hours each week. We offer skill-building workshops in arts education, art handling, printmaking, photo & video, and advocacy & activism.  Youth may spend a year as Peer Leaders receiving this paid training, and are then placed in Fieldwork Internships at arts and culture institutions.


Major funding for Assembly is provided by The Horace Goldsmith Foundation, The Salomon Foundation, Art for Justice Fund, Pinkerton Foundation. Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, Donald & Shelly Rubin Foundation, Prospect Hill Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and The ELMA Philanthropies. 

Banner image courtesy by Kaz Sakuma




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