Right of Return USA Fellowship


Formerly incarcerated artists will be commissioned to create work for non-profits doing work focused on criminal justice reform.


Formerly incarcerated artists, age 18 or older.


May - September 2019


$10,000.00 prize, $10,000.00 for materials and production.


December 16th, 2018 11:59 pm (EST)
The Soze Agency is not able to grant extensions or accept late submissions 


February 25 - March 7th, 2019

For applicants invited to move to next round


March 11, 2019

Right of Return USA Fellowship

Reimagining justice through the arts | A fellowship for formerly incarcerated artists 

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.” - Paul Robeson 

Artists as culture-makers have always had a critical role to play in transforming our society into one that is more just, and the push to end mass incarceration is no exception. Artists have always been at the forefront of social movements distilling complex issues and helping us make sense of the world around us. In a world saturated with new challenges everyday, artists also function as organizers by connecting people and refocusing our attention into action as we collectively reimagine the world we want to live in.

While many artists have explored the issue of mass incarceration, formerly incarcerated artists have an especially important role in exploring this issue. Speaking from their own life stories, these artists powerfully ground their audiences in the experience of incarceration, helping us to break through the wall of ignorance and shame that often disconnects the public from action. As such, they are critical strategic partners in efforts to challenge mass incarceration at all levels. The key goals of the fellowship are to reduce mass incarceration, make visible the dimension of mass incarceration, educate americans about mass incarceration and its links to racial bias, and build the public will for further reforms.

The Right of Return project welcomes submissions from formerly incarcerated artists working in all creative disciplines to challenge mass incarceration—including visual, performance, poetry, media, design, and other artistic practices.

Artist Retreat

In addition to receiving financial support for the proposed project, Right of Return Fellows will participate in a group retreat in Early Spring of 2019 and in Late Summer of 2019 (U.S. based location TBD); participation is a requirement of the fellowship. The central aims of the retreat are to foster relationships, gain perspective on the problems of mass incarceration and innovative solutions, and develop a deeper knowledge of criminal justice reform efforts across the country. The retreat includes master classes on campaign strategies, criminal justice policy, and relevant art practices.


The Soze Agency is seeking to support formerly incarcerated artists with a demonstrated ability to effectively apply their creative work to end mass incarceration.

More specifically: 

  • We define the word “artist” in broad terms to include designers, musicians, visual artists, performers, photographers, spoken-word artists, poets, storytellers, and so forth. 
  • Artists may be at any stage of their career.
  • Projects and applicants must be U.S. based.
  • We strongly encourage women, veterans, undocumented individuals, and LGBTQ individuals to apply.


  • Funded projects must be completed within 12 months of the award date
  • Selected fellows will be asked to provide a proposed overall budget for the project


  • The application form 
  • A one page written statement (500 words max) or video statement (3 minutes max).
  • Visual artists must submit 5 examples of their work
  • Writers, musicians, and spoken-word poets must submit 3 samples of their work
  • Performing artists must submit 3 samples of their work
  • Resume and/or website link (optional)


Applicants will be reviewed by a committee comprised of curators, artists and other experts in the field with direct knowledge of incarceration. The reviewers will represent diverse geographies, artistic practices, backgrounds, and fields of expertise.  

Submitted proposals will be fully vetted. The final selections will be determined by the Right of Return board members in conjunction with the review committee.  For the purposes of confidentiality we will not reveal anyone on the review committee or offer specific feedback discussed during the selection process.


Finalists will be considered based on the following criteria:

  • Quality of artist’s past work and proposed project
  • Likelihood that the award will result in the production of artistic work that will meaningfully contribute to criminal justice reform efforts and help build the public’s will for reform
  • Plans for public engagement in the work, during its creation and/or at its public presentation. Special attention will be paid to where the work will be seen; its intended location (i.e. gallery, prison, public park, etc.) and the intended audience.   
  • Likelihood that the proposed work will be completed within the timeframe and budget allotted
  • Diversity of the finalists pool

We look forward to reviewing your application for a Right of Return Fellowship.