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100 Cars Will Line Cook County Jail to Show Racial Makeup, Community Impact

By Erica Demarest | August 13, 2015 3:50pm
 96 Acres, a Little Village-based arts project that creates public installations near the Cook County Jail, plans to park 100 cars along the property on Saturday: 67 black, 19 brown and 14 white. That's one car for each percentage of the inmate population that's black, Latino or white.
96 Acres PARK
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LITTLE VILLAGE — If you've got a black, brown or white car, 96 Acres wants to borrow it this Saturday.

The Little Village-based arts project, which creates public installations near the Cook County Jail, plans to park 100 cars along the property: 67 black, 19 brown and 14 white.

That's one car for each percentage of the inmate population that's black, Latino or white, according to Maria Gaspar, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who's helping organize the event. (For comparison, Cook County's population is 25 percent black, 25 percent Latino and 43 percent white, according to the 2013 census numbers.)

"The jail is obviously a very charged, loaded place," said Gaspar, who grew up in Little Village. "A variety of people are impacted by it — the residents that live near the jail, folks that work there, the people that are incarcerated, the people that are transitioning.

"We wanted this project to represent the multiple voices, to humanize the issues."

Each car will have its windows rolled down and radios pumped up, Gaspar said. Vocalo, a local public radio service, has produced a special broadcast that will air from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

In addition to streaming a rare 1970 B.B. King performance that happened inside the jail at 2700 S. California Ave., the radio program will feature stories from locals who've been impacted by the site.

PARK 96 ACRES from Landon Brown on Vimeo.

Cook County Jail is the largest single-site jail in the U.S. According to the sheriff's office, it houses roughly 9,000 inmates on any given day — most of whom are awaiting trial. The facility, which spans 96 acres, takes up roughly eight city blocks in the middle of Little Village.

"Think about the urban dynamics, the psychology ... of having a jail that big in the middle of a neighborhood or dense city," said Landon Brown, the New York-based artist who designed Saturday's event, called PARK.

Seeing the 100 cars — 86 of which will be different shades of brown and black — will be visually striking, Brown said. But that's only one piece of the puzzle.

"The collaboration with Vocalo, the presence of a historic event [B.B. King performance] in the context of a contemporary event, were ways to add a number of different voices to the story," he said.

All too often, organizers said, conversations about jails, reform and inmate populations happen outside or away from the property. Gaspar hopes that Saturday's event can link employees, locals and outsiders in a bigger discussion of what it means to house so many inmates, with such skewed racial statistics.

"When you're a kid growing up in Chicago," Gaspar said," especially on this side of the city, public art is such a major part of one's art education. So that was a large part of how I learned about art and thinking about art, and how artists were informally and collectively making things and shaping ideas."

Gaspar helped launch 96 Acres, which is backing eight public arts projects at the jail this year, to do just that.

Source: 96 Acres PARK on Vimeo, Landon Brown

Brown, who graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002, said he was drawn to 96 Acres because he hoped to "create a common conversation with many different stakeholders around a common theme ... to bring everyone to the same table."

To participate in Saturday's event, click here. As of Thursday, 96 Acres is still looking for shades of black and brown cars (e.g. black, gray, brown, tan), Gaspar said. And there'll be several jumper cables and volunteers on hand to deal with mechanical issues.

The cars will line Sacramento Avenue near the jail, and residents have agreed to move their vehicles to create ample space. Gaspar anticipates street vendors, and Vocalo will create an additional broadcast with day-of interviews.

For more information, click here.

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