«From the outset of thinking about the commission to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, I knew that I wanted to engage the community of Venice, the actual residents who live there full-time amid the constant influx of people coming in temporarily from elsewhere as tourists, travelers, etc.
One of the unique qualities of Venice is that most of people you encounter, at least in the city center and around the Biennale, are not Venetians. It has always been important to me that art not exist in a vacuum. Art must engage with society; otherwise, what is the point? I have always learned from my experiences that one of the best ways to engage with a population is to connect locally with the surrounding community.
From the very first moment I met Liri Longo, Rio Tera dei Pensieri president, and learned about the important work she oversees there, I knew I wanted to work with this nonprofit. Prisons are not the first thing you think of when you think of Venice, even though they represent part of the “real life” of the community. That became very interesting to me.
In the summer 2016 I visited the men’s and women’s prisons and spent time with the prisoners. I learned about the various programs offered by Rio Tera dei Penseiri. I recognized immediately that their work is important and very well run organization. I had only one question for Liri and her staff: “How can I help?”
Rio Tera dei Pensieri has a strong 20-year history of helping male and female prisoners. The nonprofit has been managed by Liri for 5 years with support from the nonprofit collaborators. One of the most impressive aspects of Rio Tera dei Pensieri is that it’s self-sufficient in that everyone involved with the nonprofit has a sense of ownership and responsibility. They take enormous pride in what they do. These people are truly invested in the project, and their commitment convinced me. I, too, wanted to be involved.»