WHAT WE DO
We connect kids affected by incarceration to opportunities in Madison's larger cultural arts and academic communities by partnering with BIPOC artists and educators committed to equity and inclusion.
Our vision is to introduce opportunities that access the kind of creative and critical thinking around social justice and change that
inspires positive perceptions of how these kids fit into the world. That translates to a heightened sense of self, better school outcomes and future success and power within their larger community.
To amplify the creativity and voices of youth affected by incarceration to empower them to become self confident, affirm their place in the world outside stigma and self-doubt, and to grow a strong commitment to social challenge.
Through long-term exposure to innovative and social justice-driven people, ideas and projects within institutions that grow opportunity, our kids have a better chance at taking ownership of the same education and opportunities too often reserved for white people of privilege or those without the challenges and stigma of familial incarceration.
Program Director Miranda Starr, formerly a Cultural Connections board member, is Early Childhood Partnership Manager at the Goodman Community Center. Miranda has been in Education for 16 years in a number of positions including Tiered 3 Approved Trainer, A Lead After School Teacher, a classroom teacher in the Madison School District and as a reading specialist. Miranda graduated from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois where she received her Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. Education is Miranda's passion and children have always been her joy. Miranda joined Cultural Connections as co-director because she believes in creating safe and engaging learning environments in which teachers, families and students can explore and grow.
"I believe in the power of community and building relationships to create lifelong learners who are confident and kind. I love this work and am honored to serve all youth, and to that end, I think this program is growing confident children plagued with the stigma of having a locked up loved one, and compassionate allies to family, friends and schoolmates who are affected by incarceration and other social issues that impact low income children."
Cultural Connections founder and Ex. Director Pat Dillon, is a social justice writer and fine artist who first began creating enrichment programs in 1998 when she noticed low income youth were seldom engaged in the advanced academic opportunities offered to her daughters. Over the following years she ran book clubs and creative writing clubs for kids with all intellectual abilities and income levels.
When her grandson's father was incarcerated in 2012, Pat directed her focus to the 2000 plus children in Dane County who live without a parent because of incarceration. She now works to support youth in building a stronger sense of self and purpose through cultural engagement, while also training youth to serve as youth allies for the many kids affected by the social structures that create barriers to academic and cultural opportunity.
Statistically, these kids suffer more Adverse Childhood Experiences, perform lower in school, have higher dropout rates and mental health issues. Because of fear of stigma, they often 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 accomplishes 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 working primarily with artists of color who lead the way.
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.