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Moravian Church, Art for Social Justice present prisoners’ works at Banana Factory

Incarcerated individuals tell their stories through art in “Hope in Hard Times: Prisoners’ Art for Social Justice,” an installation at the Banana Factory that seeks to shed light on important questions about humanity and generate discussion about the criminal justice system.

The exhibition, which is presented by Art for Justice, The Moravian Church’s Eastern District, Moravian Seminary and ArtsQuest, runs March 1 to April 7 in the Crayola Gallery of the Banana Factory Arts Center, 25 W. Third St., Bethlehem.

Art can tell stories about the human experience through the lens of an individual deep within the criminal justice system – or prison. Viewing the art can open conversations about collective justice and individual worth in our times,” said Ann Marie Kirk, co-founder of Art for Justice, a nonprofit that brings awareness to challenges in the criminal justice system through the art of prisoners.

“My hope is that those who behold this exhibit will be enriched personally by the experience and will also look for ways to engage constructively in their communities and the issues of our times.”

The idea of bringing this exhibition to the community was born two years ago during a church gathering involving 47 Moravian East Coast churches. According to Calvary Moravian Church pastor, the Rev. Janel Rice, the Moravian Church viewed the exhibition as an opportunity to transform the way people see the incarcerated and to engage in the reforms that their art and stories call for.

“Art for Justice seemed to be the perfect partner and a way to share the gift of art of the incarcerated with not only just the 14 Moravian churches in the Lehigh Valley, but the entire community,” Rice said. “We hope that this exhibit will begin or continue a conversation between our faith and our practices of love and justice in the lives of the incarcerated and in the movements for criminal justice reform.”

Since 1997, Art for Justice has held exhibitions at more than 100 venues and events. The organization was co-founded by Charles Zafir Lawson, a visual artist sentenced to life without parole, and Kirk, an artist, teacher and social worker who earned the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award in 2008 for her efforts toward social change.

As part of the exhibition, individuals affected by failures in the criminal justice system will share their stories at the following special events:

First Friday, Banana Factory, speaker: Ann Marie Kirk, Art for Justice, 1:45 p.m. March 1;

Lecture at Moravian College’s Prosser Auditorium, speaker: Tyrone Werts, Soros fellow, Pennsylvania lifer commuted by Gov. Ed Rendell, 7 p.m. March 19. The event is free; register at;

Vigil for Hope in the Criminal Justice System at the Banana Factory, keynote speaker: Chester Hollman, Jr., telling the story of his son Chester Hollman III’s wrongful conviction and sentence of life without parole in Pennsylvania, 2 to 4 p.m., March 24.