Threewalls: Artists ‘of Community’

In 2020, Surdna’s Thriving Cultures program launched an artist regranting initiative that supports artists of color around the country, funding up to 87 artist-led projects each year and approximately 260 projects over three years. Threewalls is one of the program’s 11 regranting partners that distributes Surdna’s funds to artists, artist collectives, and small artist organizations to work with their communities to imagine and practice racially just systems and structures at a local scale.

WBEZ interviewed Threewalls Executive Director Dr. Jeffreen Hayes about the organization’s mission and its RaD Lab+Outside the Walls Fellowship that supports artists and creatives of color to develop an idea that addresses a racial justice issue where they live.

“The fellows are ‘of community’ rather than just ‘in community.’ The projects are ‘reciprocal’. It’s not that you are coming in and you are telling a community about themselves, but you are actually there and you are listening.”

– Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, Threewalls Executive Director

About the Organization

Threewalls is a Chicago-based nonprofit arts group and gallery that fosters contemporary art practices that respond to lived experiences, encouraging connections beyond art.

WBEZ: Chicago Art Gallery Showcases Artists of Color as Part of Its Mission

Listen to the interview and read more on WBEZ. 
Key Takeaways:
  • When Executive Director Dr. Jeffreen Hayes joined Threewalls in 2015, she focused on supporting artists of color. Now, diversity is central to the organizational mission.
  • Threewalls’ work is “reciprocal,” centering community voices and needs
  • As part of its RaD Lab+Outside the Walls Fellowship, Threewalls supports ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) artists and creatives who use radical imagination to practice a racially just society.
  • The fellowship is supported by Surdna, who awarded Threewalls $1.2 million to expand the organization’s racial justice work.
  • RaD Lab Fellow Acquil Charlton is confronting the false assumption that communities of color don’t recycle. Through his Mobile Music Box project, he’s teaching folks in his neighborhood to make instruments out of found objects and raising awareness of environmental conservation.
  • RaD Lab Fellows Chineze Mogbo and Safiya Eshe Gyas are hosting conversations with Black survivors of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. In doing so, they are shining a light on medical racism, a topic that is important to their communities.
  • Threewalls believes emotional wellbeing is central to artistic practice and encourages its fellows to pay themselves, save for healthcare, take vacation, and practice self care.
RaD Lab+Outside the Walls Fellows: Jenna Anast | Threewalls on Facebook