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Ulrich Museum exhibition puts spotlight on the lives of children behind bars
Richard Ross, King County Youth Service Center, Seattle, Washington, 1, 2010. Digital inkjet print, 38 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

WICHITA, KAN.- On any given day in the United States, some 70,000 young people are in juvenile detention or correctional facilities. For the past seven years, photographer Richard Ross has documented the placement and treatment of American juveniles that have been housed by law in facilities that treat, confine, punish, assist, and occasionally, harm them. A project to make the lives of forgotten youth visible comes together in Juvenile in Justice, an exhibition by Ross at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University. The exhibition is on view Jan. 25–April 13, 2014, with a small selection of images also on view in the Rhatigan Student Center at WSU.

The exhibition features nearly 60 large-scale images from facilities nationwide, including 18 from Sedgwick, Johnson, Wyandotte, and Douglas County juvenile detention facilities in Kansas. The faces of the minors are blurred, cropped out of frame, or hidden by hands or hair to protect confidentiality. Accompanying many images are excerpts from interviews Ross conducted during the project.

To date, the Juvenile In Justice project includes photographs and interviews with more than 1,000 juveniles at over 300 facilities in 31 states—from detention, correction and treatment facilities to group homes, police departments and juvenile courtrooms. Ross introduces the viewer to young people with little voice, from families with the least resources, in neighborhoods with the least power. "The hope is that by seeing these images, people will have a better understanding of the conditions that exist," Ross writes on his website. Ross will be in Wichita Feb. 6 to give an artist talk about the project at the Ulrich Museum.

Ulrich director Bob Workman believes that an exhibition featuring work at the juncture of art and social commentary belongs in a university setting. “Wichita State and the Ulrich are an ideal safe place to facilitate real community and family dialogue about difficult social topics,” Workman said. “We’ve taken steps to encourage and invite such dialogue on this haunting examination of juveniles in the justice system, a topic that directly touches our community.”

With a Recognition Grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, the Ulrich will have extended visitor hours for the duration of the exhibition, a resource center with an on-site social worker to provide counseling resources, and 100 percent bus reimbursement for group visits.

“Art absolutely has the power to incite change. With this exhibition and these resources our intent is that a parent, grandparent, or young person can seek help for a friend, loved one, or themselves,” said Workman. “These photographs have the power to change peoples’ lives.”

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