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Thursday, June 8 • 5:00pm - Saturday, June 10 • 7:00pm
The Corrections

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This proposal provides an overview of my current curatorial project “The Corrections.” “The Corrections” is an interdisciplinary exhibition showcasing a group of women artists-activists who are survivors of the Troubled Teen Industry (TTI). While the exhibition is specific to the lived experience of TTI survivors, it is reflective of larger societal issues involving disability justice, gender expectations, and oppression ingrained in carceral systems. “The Corrections” merges my artistic practice with my work as a community organizer fighting institutional abuse. The goal of the project is to provoke uncomfortable conversations about human captivity, reexamining who is entitled to inhabit civil society and who “deserves” removal.

The so-called Troubled Teen Industry is a multibillion dollar industry designed to modify the socially undesirable behavior of adolescents. This opaque network of for-profit facilities includes boot camps, wilderness programs, religious reform schools, and residential treatment centers*. The estimated 100,000 to 200,000 children currently confined in TTI facilities are held indefinitely at the program’s discretion, often for years. Communication with the outside world is grossly restricted or forbidden altogether. Widespread physical, sexual, and psychological abuse within TTI programs have been reported for decades.

Youth enter the TTI through the school system, foster care system, or are directly placed in programs by their family. The so-called delinquent behavior used to justify TTI placement is arbitrary and reflects our country’s legacy of institutionalizing women for subverting traditional gender expressions and expectations. Websites of female TTI facilities list items like “losing temper,” “relationship with older boyfriend,” and “promiscuity” as concerning behaviors that necessitate institutional placement. De-facto gay conversation therapy is a common experience for queer, trans, and nonbinary adolescents assigned female at birth.

The TTI is largely unknown to the public and remains almost entirely unregulated on both the state and federal level. It is only recently, through survivor-led activism like the #BreakingCodeSilence movement, that legislators and the general public are being forced to pay attention. The artists featured in “The Corrections” draw upon their first-hand experiences to expose the inner workings of this shadowy industry. While each story is unique, viewed collectively they share overarching themes: community dislocation, identity erasure, and the struggle to reintegrate in normative society after a period of prolonged captivity.

“The Corrections” was born out of my work as a grassroots organizer, and I view this curatorial project as a form of visual activism. Art becomes a vehicle giving voice to survivors, empowering them to publicly share their truth and resist the institutions designed to silence them. The project also celebrates the resiliency of survivors and their dedication to fight this system and protect future generations. My hope is that the exhibition and related programming help to move public sentiment away from confinement in favor of community-based alternatives.

For HASTAC 2023 I would like to guide conference participants through a 3D virtual tour of the exhibition on Matterport (the physical exhibition will be on view through June 17, 2023). In conjunction with the virtual tour, I will discuss exhibition-related issues such as carceral systems, behavior modification, and the use of visual mediums in organizing communities.

The topics that I will touch on during this talk include:
  • A brief overview of the Troubled Teen Industry. This includes recent cases of abuse and deaths that have occurred in TTI facilities as well as the ongoing work of activists to protect children currently being held in these programs
  • Situating the TTI within a centuries-long history of imprisoning individuals considered socially undesirable by the dominant culture. This includes women displaying gender nonconforming behavior, alternative gender expressions, and people with disabilities– particularly mental illness and substance use disorders.
  • Placing the TTI in context with our present-day carceral systems that profit from the surveillance and confinement of human beings
  • How visual mediums give voice to survivors and the ways in which activists are using participatory creative campaigns to amplify their message
  • The power of branding and design to create a cohesive organizational voice for activists. Design carries implicit emotional messages and helps legitimize survivors’ work
  • Sustainable and effective organizing practices when working with disabled people in disparate locations who face challenging life circumstances. I will reference the importance of collective care, resource-sharing and harm reduction

*While genocide and cultural erasure generally are not the main goals of TTI facilities, it is important to note that some Indegenous survivors of residential schools align themselves with the #BreakingCodeSilence movement

avatar for Sam Fein

Sam Fein

Independent Artist
Sam Fein is a Boston-based artist, educator, and community organizer. Her work explores social frameworks of power, asking us to reconsider who "deserves" removal from civil society. She has completed artist residencies at MASS MoCA, an Access to Power fellowship, and was a Fulbright... Read More →

Thursday June 8, 2023 5:00pm - Saturday June 10, 2023 7:00pm EDT
Steuben Gallery