Formerly incarcerated artists will be selected to create work in collaboration with advocacy organizations to advance criminal justice reform.
Formerly incarcerated artists of all creative disciplines, age 18 or older.
$20,000 total: $10,000 artist award, $10,000 for materials and production.

  • The deadline is January 20, 2023 11:59 pm (EST)

The Right of Return USA Fellowship will not grant extensions or accept late submissions
February 6, 2023
A fellowship for formerly incarcerated artists
“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.” - Paul Robeson
Right of Return USA invites formerly incarcerated artists to propose art projects aimed at transforming our criminal legal and immigration systems and reducing their scale and reach. The fellowship is open to artists working in all creative disciplines, including but not limited to visual, performance, poetry, media, and design.
Artists have always played a critical role in social movements as culture-makers and catalysts for change. The work to end mass incarceration and criminalization is no exception.
Right of Return USA artists exist and work at the forefront of social movements and have the unique power to translate complex and nuanced ideas into powerful experiences, helping audiences move toward action. In a world saturated with new challenges and rapidly growing divisions, our fellows are also organizers and advocates who connect people and communities to collectively reimagine the world we want to live in.
The goal of the Right of Return USA Fellowship is to support the creation of new bodies of work that uplift the voices of people directly impacted by the criminal justice system, reflect the humanity of criminalized and incarcerated people, and build public will for ambitious and visionary change. Embedding artists within the reform movement results in more nimble, resonant, and creative campaigns to end mass incarceration and advance racial equity.
If selected, Right of Return USA fellows will be asked to commit to participating in a group retreat in spring 2023 and be invited to a multi-cohort retreat in late 2023. The Right of Return USA retreats are meant to foster community, develop political advocacy skills, and support practice sustainability. If COVID-19 makes in-person convenings impossible, abbreviated versions of the retreat will be held online.
The Right of Return USA Fellowship seeks to support formerly incarcerated artists with a demonstrated capacity to advance social change and a clear vision for utilizing their creative practice 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, and storytellers.
  • Artists must collaborate with an advocacy organization during the development and/or execution of their proposed project (collaborating organizations do not need to be secured at the time of application).
  • Artists may be at any stage of their career.
  • Projects and applicants must be U.S. based.
  • Right of Return USA seeks a diverse cohort of fellows with regard to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and experience.


  • 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


  • A completed application form
  • A  written statement (1000 words max) or video statement (5 minutes max).

Please address the following in your statement:

  • Briefly describe your experience with the criminal justice system.
  • Describe the specific project you are requesting support for, including the issue areas you plan to address and your artistic approach.
  • Please note whether there is a specific criminal justice organization or advocate(s) you hope to collaborate with or whether you have not yet identified potential collaborators and would like support.
  • Explain how your project might be integrated in a partner organization or advocate’s campaign or strategy and the change you are seeking to bring about. How will you coordinate and collaborate with your partner(s)?
  • Who is your intended audience and what does the successful completion of your project look like? How will it reach your audience?
  • 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 of curators, artists and other experts in the field. The reviewers will represent diverse geographies, artistic practices, backgrounds, and fields of expertise.
Submitted proposals will be considered in their entirety. 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:

  • Merit of artist’s past work and strength of proposed project
  • Likelihood that the proposed project will meaningfully contribute to criminal justice reform efforts and reach its intended audience
  • Clarity of vision for a truly collaborative effort with partner organization or advocate(s) (artists will not be penalized for not having secured a collaborator at the time of application)
  • Likelihood that the proposed work will be completed within the timeframe and budget allotted
  • Diversity of perspective and experience.

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

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