Over the past year I have been learning more and more about a phenomena in the United States that is ushering a large percentage of our young men and women of color from high school straight to prison. This is happening because of many reasons that will take the cooperation of all people of good will to confront and solve. As an artist, I’m interested in how the power of music and art can provide channels of self expression, positive tools for problem solving, and resources for empathy and mutual respect. With the support of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, I will spend 2 years researching the “Pipeline to Prison” complex, I will visit juvenile detention centers with my various ensembles to engage the youth with music workshops and opportunities for self expression and community building, and I will compose an oratorio for big band orchestra and voice that will highlight this issue and provide a voice to the injustices of our current incarceration system. There are many other activities that are currently being planned to better understand this tragedy and I will be listening and engaging with any and everyone interested in rethinking prison justice, ending the death penalty, and providing real opportunities to our youth through art and music.
As of April 2014, I had the great honor of revisiting the Juvenile Probation Center (Woodside) in San Francisco with my ensemble where we performed for the youth and also gave them opportunities to sing, rap, or recite poetry with the band. Our goal is to inspire these young people to re-imagine their paths and envision a positive and productive future that will deter them from returning back juvenile hall or jail. I believe in the power of music, but more so I believe in the power of connecting with young people who may have never felt love or positive re-enforcement. I just happen to be a musician and pledge to use my music to reach these souls. We plan to make 5-10 more visits to the Juvenile Center and other similar detention centers.
- Recent interview on KQED Forum with Michael Krasney discussing current work including Pipeline to Prison research
- Recent video produced by Cynthia Stone for KQED. Footage includes music workshop at the Juvenile Center on April 1, 2014
- Feature article in the San Jose Mercury News that mentions the Pipeline to Prison work
I have been fortunate as well to work with 2 amazing artists on similar projects. Over past 3 years I have collaborated with Joanna Haigood and the Equal Justice Society led by Eva Patterson on a project called “Dying While Black and Brown”. Joanna Haigood is one of our leading nationally known choreographers based here in San Francisco (her dance studio is in Hunters Point). We have had several performances of this work which aims to be a voice in ending the death penalty in California and in fact the entire country. I’ve also worked with the award winning playwright and actress Anna Deveare Smith on her new dealing with the very same topic (Pipeline to Prison). It has been an honor working with both of these geniuses and it has informed the work I am composing for my orchestra.
I am in the process of planning “Salons” at the Red Poppy Art House to invite the community and general public to discuss the “Pipeline to Prison” complex in a setting where I will discuss my research and talk about related music “Dying While Black and Brown.” My goal is to learn from all voices on this issue which is a difficult and personal one for many people.
~ Marcus Shelby