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Nicole Fleetwood Receives $1M Grant from the Mellon Foundation for Prison Art Initiative

Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood stands next to a window wearing a black dress with white stripes and red flowers.

New York University has received a $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to support Marking Time, a scholarly endeavor of principal investigator, curator, art historian, and NYU James Weldon Johnson Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, Nicole R. Fleetwood.

Funding from the Mellon Foundation will provide critical support to sustain and grow the initiative over the next three years.

Marking Time includes a book, a traveling exhibition, public programming, artist support and development, and an evolving archive of art made in captivity and art that responds to the carceral state. The central aim of the project is to empower artists and amplify the cultural significance of their work, while working to transform the criminal legal system.

I am deeply grateful to the Mellon Foundation for recognizing the transformative power of art to bring about social change. Through its generous support of Marking Time, the Foundation will help amplify the artistic visions of formerly and currently incarcerated artists and underscore the humanity of those in punitive captivity.

Nicole R. Fleetwood

In 2020, Harvard University Press published Fleetwood's book Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, a decade-long study of the visual art and culture of contemporary prisons in the United States. The New York Times, The National Book Foundation, and the Smithsonian selected this book for their 2020 “best book”, and that same year it won the National Book Critics Award in Criticism. 

The Marking Time exhibition debuted at MoMA PS1 on Sept 17, 2020, receiving critical praise by many art and news outlets, including The Atlantic, Art in America, ArtForum, The Nation, The New Yorker. It was listed as one of the best art moments of 2020 by The New York Times

The grant from the Mellon Foundation will ensure the continuation of the Marking Time traveling exhibition and associated public programming, and offer in-depth expertise to artists for the cultivation of their artistic practice and the preservation of their material archives. It will make possible the publication of a series of limited-edition artist monographs and help bring financial independence to artists featured.

Nicole R. Fleetwood is the inaugural James Weldon Johnson Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. A MacArthur Fellow, she is a writer, curator, and art critic whose interests are contemporary Black diasporic art and visual culture, photography studies, art and public practice, performance studies, gender and feminist studies, Black cultural history, creative nonfiction, prison abolition and carceral studies, and poverty studies.


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