About the Project

Unbarred Poetics

Unbarred Poetics is a collaboration between Tara Betts and David Weathersby which entails shooting, editing, and sharing 3-5 videos featuring Illinois poets articulating different experiences about the carceral state.

After these videos are created, Betts will devise writing prompts and a brief list of suggested resources to complement the videos.

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About the Humanists

Tara Betts

Dr. Tara Betts is the author of the poetry collections Break the Habit, Arc & Hue, and the forthcoming Refuse to Disappear. In 2019, she was commissioned to write a poem celebrating the Illinois Bicentennial, which was published as a broadside by Candor Arts in 2020.

Tara’s work as a teaching artist and mentor for young poets also includes having taught at several universities, including Rutgers University and University of Illinois-Chicago. She has also taught poetry workshops at Stateville Prison via Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project, and writing workshops at Cook County Jail and Cook County Juvenile Detention Center via Free Write Arts & Literacy.

Tara’s work on literature and literacy is deeply entwined with inclusion, accessibility, and encouraging critical thinking, especially outside of traditional academic institutions. She is the founder and director of The Whirlwind Learning Center on Chicago‚Äôs South Side.

Learn More and Follow Tara

Tara Betts


David Weathersby

David Weathersby is a filmmaker and founder of City Vanguard, an arts organization that produces community-based documentaries for educational and cultural institutions. As a director, he has produced films, documentaries, music videos, and video art projects.

David’s past projects include the documentaries Got the Love, Jazz Occurrence, Thee Debauchery Ball, and The Color of Art. His work has been featured on The Africa Channel, WTTW, and film festivals including Pan African Film Festival, San Diego Black Film Festival, Roxbury International Film Festival, Chicago Onscreen, Chicago South Side Film Festival, Collected Voices Film Festival, Black Harvest Film Festival, Image Union Film Festival, and The Chicago Short Comedy Film Festival.

In 2018, David received a Black Excellence Award for best director by the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago. In 2019, his documentary Thee Debauchery Ball won best feature film at the Black Harvest Film Festival and Chicago South Side Film Festival.

Learn More About City Vanguard

David Weathersby

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About Illinois Humanities' Envisioning Justice program

Envisioning Justice brings Illinois together to examine and reimagine the criminal legal system through the arts and humanities.

Envisioning Justice leverages the arts and humanities to envision alternatives to the enduring injustice of mass incarceration. This Illinois Humanities initiative works with communities and people impacted by mass incarceration to spark conversation and illuminate community-based strategies that address our racist and unjust criminal legal system.

From 2017 to 2019, Envisioning Justice was concentrated in Chicago. Moving forward, Illinois Humanities is expanding this initiative and its attendant activities throughout the state. As a part of this next phase of Envisioning Justice, we will host and document community conversations, provide grant opportunities, and commission projects by artists and humanists working to shift the narrative around incarceration and system impacted communities.

Learn more about the Envisioning Justice program, including upcoming events and grant offerings.

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