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Watch our kids on

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Engage (Mission)

Our mission is to take kids with an incarcerated parent outside their comfort zones to connect with culturally diverse and savvy artists and educators in Madison's larger cultural arts and academic communities. 

Inspire (Vision)

Our vision is to  introduce opportunities that access the kind of creative and critical thinking that 

inspires positive  perceptions of how the kids fit into the world. That translates to a heightened sense of self, better school behavior and future success within their larger community.


Children of incarcerated parents suffer more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) than any population of children living with trauma. Through trauma-informed support along side youth with similar challenges, our kids  grow confidence, affirming their place outside stigma and self-doubt. 


Through long-term exposure to innovative people and projects within institutions that grow opportunity, our kids have a better chance at feeling ownership of an equitable education and opportunity.  



Cultural Connections founder Pat Dillon is a social justice writer and fine artist who first began creating enrichment programs in 1998 when she noticed that low income youth were seldom engaged in the advanced academic opportunities offered to her daughters. Over the following years she ran book clubs, creative writing clubs and a celebrated Great Books program that had kids with all intellectual abilities and income levels signing up. 

When her grandson's father was incarcerated in 2012, Pat directed her focus on the 2000 plus children in Dane County who live without a parent because of incarceration, and now works primarily with those youth.


Statistically, these kids suffer more Adverse Childhood Experiences, perform lower in school, have higher drop out rate rates and mental health issues. And because of fear of stigma, they suffer their trauma silently while acting it out in school and on the streets.  Cultural Connections offers a safety net through cultural arts engagement.


With diversity and cultural competency as its core value, Pat and her Cultural Connections team does this by taking kids out of their schools and their comfort zones and introduces them to long-term, cultural arts and academic opportunities in their larger community.





With more than 12 kids identified as being affected by incarceration, Lake View Elementary has brought in Cultural Connections to create a safe maker-space where these kids can engage in the kind of creative projects that will be visible to the general public in Madison. Through this project, these joyful, resilient children can escape stigma and help raise awareness around the need to be recognized and supported. 

CONFINED, 2018 Makeshift Festival & Central Library Gallery Night

CONFINED is a Madison Parks Commission and Madison Arts Commission Blink-funded collaboration between Cultural Connections and artists from ArtWorking, a regional resource for artists and entrepreneurs with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Here artists Romano Johnson and Brianna Richardson painted their interpretation of family on a mock prison cell* to symbolized how unjust sentencing and incarceration confines the entire family. The interior is a kiosk of information about mass incarceration and its affect on families. The back panel features reproductions of drawings by Cultural Connections children. 


The cell also features audiotaped interviews with people on both sides of this important issue—children and once incarcerated parents. 

Strut Parade with UW Spanish Dept. & School of Human Ecology: Costume Design & Dance

Strut Parade

In partnership with Breaking Barriers Mentoring, the UW Spanish Department and the School of Human Ecology, Cultural Connections (then called Street Smarts) led 12 youth who had experienced homelessness and other disparities in a 4 month project on UW Campus. From February to May, we met at the School of Human Ecology where Prof. Caroline Smythe Kallenborn instructed the kids in costume design in preparation for the STRUT Parade, a community arts procession around the Capitol Square. The kids learned African dance, fabric dyeing, mask making, stilt walking and handmade their own costume. 

Dreams of our Future, Glendale Elementary School