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A homecoming with a mission

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

Hamilton, Ohio – Provocative. Awe-inspiring. Challenging.

Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood – New York University professor, acclaimed author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration and MacArthur Fellowship recipient – doesn’t mind poking the proverbial bear as co-curator of the Home Free: Ohio Artists Envision Prison Abolition art exhibition coming to the Fitton Center for Creative Arts this fall.

She joins co-curator Aimee Wissman and Kamisha Thomas of the Returning Artist Guild to present dramatic visual art by currently and formerly incarcerated artists living in Ohio.

Home Free – running concurrently with Maureen O’Keefe’s Being Good - goes on view October 21 and has a gallery opening celebration from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 28.

Both exhibitions question societal norms and expectations. Home Free presents a diverse array of art made by people imprisoned as a challenge to the public’s view of the worth and contributions of people who have been criminalized. Being Good offers portraits of individuals layered in mystery, shadow and ambivalence. Take together, the artists present complex views on societal notions of goodness and the intrinsic value of every individual. The exhibitions run through January 5, 2024.

Fleetwood – a 1990 graduate of Hamilton High School - grew up about half a mile from the future site of the Fitton Center in the 2nd Ward neighborhood now known as Riverview.

“Growing up in the late 1980s, I saw many of my relatives, neighbors and kids I went to school with incarcerated,” she said. “I saw how devastating that experience was, not only for the people incarcerated, but also for the families and friends of those people. It really struck me as a high school student and it stayed with me as an adult.”

So much so that her Marking Time book became a traveling art exhibition as well, running to rave reviews at prestigious venues like New York’s MoMA PS1 and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. With it, she hopes to shine a light on communities in crisis because of mass incarceration.

“We’re talking about the most marginalized and the most vulnerable populations in need of protection by society, instead of being incarcerated,” she said. “Mass incarceration takes place on a local scale through the hyper-incarceration of specific communities. We’re talking about black, LatinX and poor white communities; also neighborhoods affected by the opioid epidemic.”

While Home Free is not a Marking Time exhibition, it is related. Fleetwood said working with Wissman and Thomas to curate the exhibition has been a great experience.

“I’m really honored that we’ve been able to bring this exhibition to the Fitton Center,” she said. “It’s been a model of collaboration. Aimee and Kamisha are creating innovative solutions to working with and supporting artists who are - or who have been - incarcerated.”

Like Marking Time, Fleetwood hopes Home Free pushes viewers to think critically about the issue of mass incarceration.

“I want viewers to be wowed by the artwork, by what they see and experience,” she said. “And I want them to leave with a sense of urgency for how we can address the issues of incarceration. We have to work together collaboratively to transform these social, economic and political issues.”

It starts locally.

“The best part about growing up in Ohio, in Hamilton, was having a large, loving extended family and having lots of love and support from the black community in Hamilton,” Fleetwood said. “I feel like I received a great education here. I’m a proud alum of Hamilton public schools and I got a full-ride scholarship to Miami University, graduated magna cum laude and went on to graduate school at Stanford. Hamilton prepared me for all of that.”

Regular gallery hours for Home Free/Being Good are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays. Galleries also are open evening hours during Fitton Center events and performances.

Galleries are always FREE and open to the public. Guided tours are available by request and can be arranged at a mutually agreeable time by contacting Director of Exhibitions Cathy Mayhugh at or by phone at 513-863-8873, ext. 122.

The Fitton Center for Creative Arts is located at 101 S. Monument Avenue on the Riverfront in downtown Hamilton, Ohio.

Building Community Excellence through the Arts and Culture

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