Democracy 25 takes the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first democratic elections in South Africa as the starting point for an ambitious program of arts interventions by which we hope to improve reintegration of previously incarcerated people by changing the general public's perception of people in the prison system. Community reentry programs across the globe are working assiduously to stem the tide of reoffenders that flow back into prisons and jails. Despite all efforts to improve reintegration and decrease recidivism, those transitioning to life outside the penal system still face significant barriers. One of the greatest hurdles is the reluctance of people in the wider community to receive former inmates. This notwithstanding, existing community reentry initiatives continue to focus their action primarily on current and former inmates and not on the receiving community. There is a critical need for interventions that foster a more open stance in the community at large.
Housed at the University of Northern Colorado and curated by South African pianist and UNC Professor Justin Krawitz, the Democracy 25 project sees a group of some of the foremost composers of our time writing new musical works to celebrate a quarter century since the abolition of Apartheid. This program of new compositions will be premiered in July 2019 at the Drakenstein Correctional Centre – the prison where Nelson Mandela spent the last part of his incarceration. Democracy 25 turns the exclusivity that often characterizes classical music on its head: the premiere will be performed solely for the inmates at Drakenstein. An iteration of the project in the United States in the fall of 2019 will see the U.S. premiere performance of the Democracy 25 program take place at Denver County Jail. Following the prison premieres, we will implement a robust, multi-pronged strategy to engage the general public on issues related to incarceration and counteract bias against former inmates. The project draws attention to marginalized people who have been forgotten by the average man on the street because they are out of sight. Music can advocate for those who suffer because of a legacy of racial injustice. Music can change the general public’s concept of criminals and criminality. Music can foster reconciliation. Democracy 25 is a challenge to recognize the humanity in ourselves and all those around us.