A Blade of Grass Films


Transforming Justice: Rachel Barnard

Rachel Barnard fosters transformational relationships between NYC Department of Probation officers and clients by creating a whimsical space for deep listening in her "Wisdom Pavilions." While in residence at the DoP, the artist focused on positively shifting the city department’s culture through a series of engagements that center the voices of those most impacted by the criminal justice system

AIRED: September 07, 2020 | 0:09:02

[ Indistinct conversation ]

What's your last name?


Rachel: This is gonna be a bit weird.



Man: [Indistinct].


Is this really -- Did I put this on backwards?

I think this might be just, um,

the correct amount of ridiculous.

Let's see.

Yes. Just ridiculous enough.


So, Rachel, let me introduce y'all.

This is [Indistinct].

-Hi. How are you? -How's it going?


I'm Rachel.

Hey. Nice to meet you.

Nice to meet you.


You might want to check with this young man first.

Hey! Do you mind?

We're just checking in.

[ Laughter ]

I love the idea of generosity contagion,

that we can have a lovely experience on the street,

and it builds up our capacity

to be generous and lovely to other people that we meet

later on in the day.

It is time for the lovey!


I believe that sparkle is very underused in social justice.


You see this? We just ferry a little bit.

This glue is very strong.

So it's gonna start to stick and fix.


Glittery things are the secret weapon of social justice,

where you can interrupt peoples' genuine grievances

to focus instead on what is possible.

Welcome to the Wisdom Pavilion.

First step is to have tea.

Would you like tea with sugar and milk?



And just go on through and sit on the seat.

Just clip this onto your collar.

How old were you when you first realized

there was a criminal justice system?

Man: Um... Maybe around 13, 14.

I was hanging out with some friends,

everybody's on the corner, and an officer came out

and said we have to move.

And I lived in the neighborhood,

so I tried to explain to the officer,

"Hey, why do we have to leave?"

And it went south.

And that situation could've changed if maybe

we'd both had an understanding of both roles --

that's me being a civilian,

and him being a law enforcement officer.

Rachel: The Wisdom Pavilion is designed to be

an otherworldly, wonderful, generous, surprising pavilion

inside what is often a very grim reception space.

Rachel: What was central bookings like?




I just wanted to get home from there.

You just want to go home.

And you don't know how long you're gonna be in there?

You just don't know.

The Public Artists in Residency program pairs city agencies

with artists to answer a certain question

or pursue a certain problem using their artistic expertise.

We selected Rachel

because she demonstrated very deep understanding

of the work that we do.

...is that you are wise.

I've been working with the Department of Probation

for years.

This was kind of a dream invitation

because they really wanted the Public Artists in Residence

to work with staff and clients.

Robert: The complexity of the work that we do

requires that sometimes you think outside of the box.

So we figure art would be a good way to do that, right?

If anyone can argue against that, please tell me.

Ana: People who are on probation tend to have a general mistrust

of the system.

What works with one person may not work with another.

That requires a setting of, essentially,

a transformational relationship with the person,

and most people who are in the justice system

don't believe that's, one, possible,

or, two, they've never seen it before.

There is a direction that some of these young men and women

can take to better themselves, to move forward.

They don't see it yet, but I can see it.

Lily: The relationship between probation officers and clients,

when it's most productive, it's collaborative,

and that's what we're seeking to do here,

is to have the people under supervision

be very much partners in developing

their own case plans and setting their own goals.


What's most important to me is me finding

where I want to be at in life.

I was all over the place.

I didn't really care about anything

or what anybody had to say.

Now, I will take the time to listen.

Before she started working with us, Rachel did an agency-wide

sort of meet and greet tour, talking with people,

and seeing the spaces, and meeting people.

[ Laughter ]

Rachel: I was really struck by the wisdom of the community

and the conversations I had, and I wanted to create

an art modality that could capture that wisdom

and turn it into some kind of atlas.

And so from time to time,

I'm also gonna be filling out this map.

I want to make 100 of these to capture the wisdom

that's inside the Department of Probation.


So, I wrote down the word "community"

because I really saw that you were a part of something bigger.

You are growth. You are understanding.

You are truth. And you are good energy.

Ana: Rachel's project is both engaging,

but potentially challenging, especially for a skeptic.

Do you want to share about that story in more detail?

Not really.

I mean, I --

I don't know what...

I don't know how to say it.

Ana: If you came in thinking,

"What is that doing at probation?"

The process of engagement in the Wisdom Pavilion

will break down that resistance by showing some vulnerability.

Cheers. [ Laughs ]

And that we know actually builds trust.

This is how we do it.

That's how you guys do it? What?

No, you need to lock it.



By being generous, you afford other people the chance

to also be generous.

In my wildest dreams, I would take a trip to Heaven

to see my mother.

That's what I would do, yeah.

Lily: There's a tremendous amount of secondary trauma

that staff can experience,

and so even people who are incredibly well-intentioned

can still have a difficult time engaging people effectively

because it's just incredibly draining

and emotionally challenging.

Some clients make it really hard for the officer to communicate.

When you engage with people that have a lot of trauma,

you hear their stories, and they may have behaviors

that are really informed by their trauma experience.

And when you do this eight hours a day,

it can be extremely fatiguing.

We have a very diverse work force that covers

one of the largest cities

with one of the most diverse populations.

So, often, the question on how you engage staff

and how you engage people that we service

in a way that is healthy in that everyone feels supported,

using art in that space made perfect sense.

I love this thing.

I don't even know where to start with this.

Lily: What Rachel is trying to accomplish

through the Wisdom Pavilion is expose the humanity

of each person, each individual who steps in there,

and in so doing, expose us to each other's humanity.

I feel really lucky to be in community with you all,

and I'm really proud of everyone that's involved in this.

This is a way to say, "Yes, so many people in New York City

have incredibly difficult challenges,

and we're also generous, creative, and visionary,

and we hold these two truths at the same time."

-Thank you. -Have a nice day, okay?

-You too, thank you. -See you tomorrow.

I'm coming to your house tomorrow.

All right.

Be safe. You, too.


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