How It Works: Creative Justice


This spring, a group of ten court-involved youth became the first graduates of the first art-based alternative to detention and extended probation in King County: 4Culture’s Creative Justice program.

4Culture, the cultural services agency for King County, launched the first session of the pilot program earlier this year in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood after months of careful coordination with staff from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and King County Superior Court. A second session just finished in Rainier Valley, and two more will follow this summer and fall in Burien and the Central District.

The program’s mentor artists use writing, music, performance, and visual art to increase the participants’ understanding of themselves and circumstances that often lead to incarceration. It also strengthens positive decision-making and emotional expression skills that, together, help them avoid future court-involvement.

4Culture will serve a total of 48 youth this year and — because demand is already outweighing capacity — is planning a second year of programming. Weekend drop-in classes supplement session offerings, providing additional opportunities for short-term engagement.

What makes the program tick? 

Referrals: Youth on probation or who might have otherwise been directed to detention are referred to the Creative Justice program by judges, attorneys, probation officers, social workers and youth advocates. Participation is totally voluntary.

Incentives: In exchange for their creative work, youth receive community service credit and stipends to help cover court fines and other expenses. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is also considering completion of a Creative Justice session as a reason to terminate probation early and as mitigation in any case.

Partner sites offer additional resources, foster a community-centered approach to learning, and develop ongoing relationships with participants. The Belltown session, for example, was held in a renowned gallery.

Project Sessions: Youth meet as a group twice per week to dialogue, create, and share a meal. Mentor artists encourage them to work both individually and collaboratively to express their personal stories in a variety of disciplines. At the end of each session, they produce events to share their creativity, vision, and new abilities.

Mentor Artists: Multi-disciplinary teaching artists have stepped up to lead the program’s inaugural sessions. These mentors also invite other professional artists from their networks to classes. Along with program advisors, they have received training on systemic race inequities, social justice, and trauma-informed care.

Wraparound services: Metro bus passes, healthy dinners, and cash stipends help remove barriers to participation.

Drop-in sessions: In addition to the four project sessions, the program hosts drop-in classes on every other Saturday, open to a broad range of youth involved with the Juvenile Court.

Research & Evaluation: Sarah Cusworth Walker, PhD, a researcher at University of Washington’s Division of Public Behavioral Health & Justice Policy,  is studying Creative Justice’s impact on youth. Preliminary and final evaluations will be used to improve the program.

Funding: 1% for Art revenue from the redevelopment of the King County Children and Family Justice Center and a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will keep the pilot afloat for two more years. Due to overwhelming interest, 4Culture is seeking additional support to expand offerings and continue the program indefinitely.

More information is available on the Creative Justice website. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s