Eastern State Penitentiary

1 Dec 2016


Digital composite of Eastern State Penitentiary’s Hidden Lives, Illuminated, 2017. Photo courtesy of Greenhouse Media.


Jesse Krimes, Apokaluptein 16389067: II, 2015. Photo by Darryl Moran.


A painting conservator removing residual wax on Peter Receiving the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.


Bill Morrison and Vijay Iyer, RELEASE. Curated by Julie Courtney at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, 2010. Photo courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.

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 Center has supported several projects at Eastern State, including a 2002 sound installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, and a 2009 video installation by Bill Morrison with composer Vijay Iyer. In 2014, Eastern State received Center support for Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, an exhibition exploring the nature of the current criminal justice system in the US. The exhibition received a 2017 Excellence in Exhibitions Award from the American Alliance of Museums and is still on view. Through a 2017 Center grant, Eastern State presents Hidden Lives Illuminated, a socially engaged public art project, commissioning twenty animated short films created by artists who are currently incarcerated. In 2021, Eastern State received a Re:imagining Recovery grant to reimagine its business model to develop and promote programming aligned with its mission to interpret the United States’ legacy of criminal justice reform, using a data-driven approach to identify opportunities to grow the historic prison site’s audience, increase regional awareness of its social justice education programming, and diversify revenue potential.