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Justice Fleet ‘COVID Ready’ Thanks to $8K Grant from New Arts and Healing Initiative

by Bridjes O'Neil on 10/19/2020


When COVID-19 hit, Amber Johnson, Ph.D., (A&S ’01, Grad A&S ’03) founding director of the Justice Fleet, faced a dilemma.

“How can we be present in the middle of a pandemic?” pondered Johnson, who is associate professor of communication and social justice at Saint Louis University and uses they/them pronouns. “Our exhibits are touchy-feely. We’re sharing space, markers and toys.”

Amber Johnson, Ph.D.

Amber Johnson, Ph.D., outside of a Justice Fleet truck. Photo by Jennifer Silverberg for theSTL.

The Justice Fleet is a mobile, pop-up, social justice museum that fosters communal healing through art, dialogue and play. Started in 2017, the Justice Fleet ventures into a variety of neighborhoods to engage community members in discussions about implicit and explicit bias, social justice and communal healing.

The Justice Fleet is now housed under SLU’s Institute for Healing Justice and Equity (IHJE), an initiative Johnson co-founded through SLU's Big Ideas competition. The Institute launched earlier this year.

The radical forgiveness exhibit encourages individuals to recognize their own biases and forgive those who have harmed them. The radical imagination exhibit creates a space for people to imagine a just world where liberation and freedom from oppression are possible.

Grant funds will be primarily used to make the Justice Fleet “COVID ready,” Johnson said.

“Because our exhibits are highly interactive,” Johnson continued. “This grant will be used to create a safer and entirely different experience inclusive of personal protective equipment (PPE) and alternative ways to participate.”

This means equipping volunteers and participants with masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes and other PPE.

The Arts and Education Council announced Oct. 7 that the Justice Fleet was one of 13 organizations and programs awarded a total of $115,000 in funding through the Arts and Healing Initiative.

The new initiative’s goal is to increase the capacity to heal through the arts. In partnership with Missouri Foundation for Health, the program aims to improve the quality of life for people throughout St. Louis City and County in its first year, and other Missouri counties in subsequent years.

Applications were evaluated by the Arts and Healing Initiative Advisory Panel composed of leaders in the arts, healthcare and research fields. The panel included Ken Haller, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at SLU's School of Medicine and a SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.

“We’re excited about getting this grant because it helps the Justice Fleet build intentional spaces for folks to heal as a community,” Johnson said.

About the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity (IHJE)

A multidisciplinary group of faculty have formed the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity at Saint Louis University, an initiative that has the potential to transform SLU into the epicenter of equitable community building and knowledge curation related to healing from social injustice, trauma and oppression.

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 12,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

About the Arts and Education Council: Keep Art Happening

The Arts and Education Council ensures the 16-county, bi-state region is rich with arts and cultural experiences for all through programs and services that support more than 70 organizations each year, including: general operating grants; arts incubation at the Centene Center for the Arts; PNC Program Grants; the Creative Impact Fund, with lead support from Bayer Fund; Bayer Fund Rural Community Arts Program grants; Arts and Healing Initiative, with lead funding from Missouri Foundation for Health and additional funding from the Crawford Taylor Foundation; the Art Education Fund, underwritten by Wells Fargo Advisors; the Catalyst Innovation Lab; the Katherine Dunham Fellowship; the stARTup Creative Competition; Leadership Roundtables; Arts Marketers; the St. Louis Suburban Music Educators Association; the Keep Art Happening Scholarship; and the St. Louis Arts Awards. 

The Arts and Education Council is entirely funded by individual donors, corporations and foundations in the St. Louis region. Since its inception in 1963 as the region’s only privately-supported united arts fund, the Arts and Education Council has raised and distributed more than $100 million in private funding for the arts – a significant contribution that directly impacts the quality of life in our region. The Arts and Education Council meets all 20 Better Business Bureau Charity Standards and has earned the Wise Giving Seal of Approval, a three-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Guidestar Exchange Gold Participant rating.