Chicago Torture Justice Memorial
Still Here:: Torture, Resiliency and the Art of Memorializing
Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) aims to honor and to seek justice for the survivors of Chicago police torture, their family members and the African American communities affected by the torture.
CTJM began in 2010 when a group of attorneys, artists, educators, and social justice activists, put out a call for speculative memorials to recall and honor the two-decades long struggle for justice waged by torture survivors and their families, attorneys, community organizers, and people from every neighborhood and walk of life in Chicago. This effort culminated in a major exhibition of 75 proposals and a year-long series of associated teach-ins, roundtables, and other public events in 2011-2013.
In 2013, a Reparations Ordinance was drafted to provide redress to approximately 120 African American men and women subjected to racially-motivated torture, including electric shock, mock executions, suffocation and beatings by now former Police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates from 1972 through 1991.
CTJM led the effort to introduce the ordinance into Chicago’s City Council. The knowledge of the ordinance gained momentum amongst various Chicago communities and transitioned into the Reparations Now campaign also known as the #RahmRepNow movement. CTJM, along with local and national organizations joined together with the mission of garnering city-wide support of the reparations ordinance. The movement was centered on spreading information about John Burge, the torture survivors with specific focus on getting the major of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel to support the passing of the ordinance.
Finally on May 6, 2015, after decades of grassroots struggle, the Chicago City Council passed the reparations package for the Burge torture survivors and their family members.
CTJM now turns its attention to making sure the reparations package is properly implemented. The organization is working on the creation a community center on the Southside of Chicago to provide the specialized trauma services to the Burge torture survivors and their family members. ensure the Chicago Public School curriculum and permanent, public memorial are designed and implemented in a way that we can all be proud of.
We were brought on to this project to organize, curate, and provide communications for an exhibition that would publically showcase six artists and design proposals for a memorial as part of the reparations package.
We assisted in providing a public & media relations strategy. We provided art direction to create the mood and feeling for the exhibition. In addition, we produced event documentation of the exhibition from beginning to end, which included video interviews with artists in their studios, meeting with survivors to hear their personal stories. We were responsible for writing press releases, pitching to media and publications, designing the exhibition catalog and marketing collateral, and documenting the opening/closing receptions and programming during the duration of the exhibition.
The project was easily one of the most intense, emotional, and time consuming that we have been a part of. It required our devotion, a comprehensive plan of action, and high level of creativity to implement each aspect of the project.
Our Process began with a discovery phase with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials that included attending monthly meetings and talking with surviors to learn about the history, stories, and activism of the organization. It also meant reviewing several documents, reading news articles, and searching through thousands of images that would help to provide us with a clear vision of how the exhibition could connect with the public and garner support to fund the memorial once the official design was selected.
The first step was to secure a location that the exhibition would take place and we were fortunate to get approval to have the exhibition at Arts + Public Life. Knowing where the exhibition would take place was vital to moving forward because the locations was crucial for all succeeding decision in the process; and once it was confirmed we were able to meet with the artists to get an understanding of their proposals that they were planning to submit. Once we learned about the artists design proposals we were able to move to the next step and design the layout of the gallery space and determine what materials and structural forms were required to be fabricated to properly display each design.
The next step in the process was to create a communications plan for announcing to the public the artists that were selected and commissioned to produce potential designs for the memorial. The communications plan consisted of planning and producing publicity and marketing campaigns. We lead the art direction for flyers, posters, social media content, and exhibition catalog.
The exhibition resulted in the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial and Arts + Public Life attaining a record amount of publicity and audience growth for both organizations. It was a life changing project that formed lasting relationships and made existing relationships stronger . We developed a deeper appreciation for our work and the work of others that ensure that injustice does not continue and is confronted and dealt with. We also developed a better knowledge of how the work that we do can be effective in working to create change.