Built in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. The building opened as a museum in 1994, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks, empty guard towers, and audio-tour-traveling visitors. For more than a decade, the prison has had an active contemporary art program. The organization's preservation, interpretation, and public programs prompt visitors to engage in dialogue and deepen a national conversation about criminal justice.
Eastern State Penitentiary’s Hidden Lives Illuminated offers a rare look into daily life inside America’s correctional system through twenty newly commissioned, animated short films, created by artists living or working in prisons. A total of twenty films were projected onto Eastern State’s 30-foot facade. Nightly screenings were grouped into four themed weeks: “The View from Inside,” “Criminal Justice Today,” “Family and Community Impact,” and “Restorative Justice.” Concurrent programs hosted by community ambassadors fostered public conversation around social and criminal justice issues, before the project culminated in a one-night festival during which all films were screened, along with a documentary about the artists, which played inside the historic site’s cellblocks. A short documentary about the creation of the project will later be on view for future Eastern State visitors. In 2020, screenings of the film were presented as part of Eastern State Penitentiary's fall Night Tours.
Additional unrestricted funds are added to each grant for general operating support.