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Meet the Formerly Incarcerated Artist in Residence Who Hopes to Transform the Philadelphia DA’s Office

Jan 10, 2020

James “Yaya” Hough speaks of a “strong desire to create dialogue inside of the community, between the DA’s office, the citizenry, the affected communities and more specifically, victim advocate groups.”

January 8, 2020

Artist residencies can take place in all sorts of spaces — in big cities or rural communities, in or outside of large institutions. But muralist James “Yaya” Hough will join a first of its kind residency in the United States, taking place at a district attorney’s office. Funded by Art for Justice, a nonprofit that focuses on bringing creativity to the criminal justice system, and in collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia and Fair and Just Prosecution, the new artist-in-residence program will begin this month at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO). 

When Hough was announced as the first artist to work with the DAO in November 2019, he was only a few months out from a 27-year prison sentence. He began his artistic practice behind prison walls after he was sentenced to life in prison for murder when he was 17. But in 2012, the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life, and he was released.

Hough began working with Mural Arts Philadelphia in 2006 while still in prison and has since publicly shared his experience of finding art and the potential for programs that focus on reforming over penalizing those in the criminal justice system. “I am humbled and honored to receive this residency,” Hough told NBC Philadelphia. “I feel that my whole life has been leading to this moment.”

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