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The Graduates, founded in 2012, is a New Orleans-based performing arts organization comprised of former members of the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW) Drama Club. Current ensemble members include: Taece Defillo, Carry Emerson, Jackie Hall, Ivy Matthis and Fox Rich. The Graduates and the LCIW Drama Club are co-directed by Kathy Randels of ArtSpot Productions and Ausettua AmorAmenkum of Kumbuka African Drum & Dance Collective and were initially co-produced by these two companies.Their performances focus on the experiences that women from Louisiana have when they interact with the prison system and are designed to move and motivate audiences to become active in helping to end mass incarceration in Louisiana.
This residency is part of Inter[SECTOR], the CAC’s three-year multidisciplinary arts programming centering cross-sector engagements with the fields of carceral justice, healthcare, and the environment. During the 20-21 season Inter[SECTOR] examines the impact of mass incarceration on our community through performances, workshops, and virtual conversations created and led by women and non-binary artists alongside individuals impacted by the in justices in the prison system.
The Graduates Rising are Robert Rauschenberg Racial Justice Fellows and their work has been supported by Alternate ROOTS, The Mellon Foundation, and Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans.
In Fall of 2020, the CAC presented a virtual table reading of Let's Talk About It, a work-in-progress play by Ausettua AmorAmenkum and The Graduates Rising. The performance, recorded inside the CAC's Black Box Theater, is available to watch on the CAC's YouTube channel, below.
Let’s Talk About It focuses on the many issues in which mass incarceration manifests, and reflects the impact that it has on society, family. and incarcerated persons. Directed by Ausettua AmorAmenkum, this presentation features Carry Emerson, Jackie Hall, Ivy Mathis, Kathy Randels and Ausettua AmorAmenkum from The Graduates; and guest artists and activists from the New Orleans community: Alison McCrary and Oliver Thomas.
Life, a performance by The Graduates, was created to accompany The Life Quilt, a handbeaded quilt with the names of the 107 women serving life sentences in Louisiana in 2017. The performance features four Graduates who were a part of The Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW) Drama Club: Taece Defillo, Carry Emerson, Fox Rich and Ivy Mathis—a juvenile lifer, whose name is on the quilt and who was released in 2019. The performance is a combination of monologues, songs, dance, and motivational speaking. Ivy shares her personal journey with a life sentence through dance and spoken word. The other three Graduates have created pieces that honor some of the women whose names are on the quilt, and who are still serving their life sentences, including Gloria “Mama Glo” Williams, the woman in the state of Louisiana who is currently serving the longest sentence of any woman in our state at 50 years. She has been approved by the pardon board for over a year and is awaiting the governor’s clemency signature. The performance is 60 minutes and uses video, recorded sound and live musical accompaniment by New Orleans musician Zohar Israel. Co-Directors Ausettua AmorAmenkum and Kathy Randels accompany the presentation and appear briefly in the performance as well.
The work will be presented in the CAC's First Floor Gallery in front of The Life Quilt, which was included in the Per(sister) exhibition at the Newcomb Art Museum at Tulane in 2019 and toured to the Ford Foundation in New York.
Sacred Wellness 360° is a new Graduates Program, in partnership with The Breath is Life Spa and Cynthia Baxter M.S.W., that supports decarceration. Sacred Wellness 360º is directly aimed at allowing formerly incarcerated women to take back the control over their bodies and their mental and emotional selves. As part of our CAC Residency The Graduates will convene our first cohort of six formerly incarcerated women guided by social workers, holistic health practitioners, artists and other FIPs towards self-discovery amidst emotional, social or mental challenges. Participation in the cohort will provide insight to participants' understanding as to how they function and what guides their choices in situations. It will become clearer to the participant that prison is where the intersectionality of racism and poor choices meet. Sacred Wellness 360º will also help participants identify where they are in their decarceration challenges. Participants will be connected to resources and identify challenges that cannot be resolved in the sessions provided. The ultimate goal is to promote self-awareness and healing.
The culmination of The Graduates CAC Residency will be a new performance that will premiere in May.June 2021. Combining pieces and insights that we gain through Sacred Wellness 360º; the performance will feature new Graduates who have been released in 2019-20 and new performances by current Graduates, addressing their thoughts, needs and advice for Louisiana on how to bring justice to our Criminal Legal System.