If you pay a visit to the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, Vermont, hoping to learn about ice-cream making, you certainly will get that information. But you’ll also come away with some heavier knowledge. In an art installation that will be on display from now until June 2020, Ben & Jerry’s highlights the work of people who have spent time in prison and now want to use their experience and talent to call attention to the need for criminal justice system reform.
“It’s rare for companies to have organizing theories, but our way of organizing and trying to drive social impact and systemic change is by increasing awareness around systemic issues, engaging our fan base on those issues, and ultimately encouraging them to take action,” says Jabari Paul, assistant U.S. activism manager for Ben & Jerry’s. This exhibit is not a new step for Ben & Jerry’s: It’s been focused on drawing attention to social issues for the better part of its 40-year history. And it believes that doing so through its factory, which is the top tourist destination in Vermont and draws 400,000 visitors per year, is an effective way to do so. It’s previously hosted an exhibit on Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign to fight systemic racism and poverty, for example.
Through its new programming around justice reform, curated with the Art for Justice Fund, the company wants visitors to come away with knowledge about the injustice of the prison system in the U.S., how it affects people, and how they, as citizens, can take action.
One fact that visitors will learn: The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, but the number of people incarcerated in the country account for 25% of the world’s total imprisoned population. As visitors peruse the artworks, many of which feature portraits of people who have been affected by the justice system, they’ll also learn about current efforts under way to reform it. “We want people to put a face to this issue,” Paul says.
Ben & Jerry’s has partnered with racial justice groups like Color of Change to bring this information to visitors. Color of Change is working on issues like ending money bail, stopping unnecessary prosecutions, and disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. The exhibit will direct visitors to a digital platform where they can sign a petition both to express support for Color of Change’s work in this area, and receive updates and further information about the need for criminal reform.