Portraits of Leadership

Rehabilitation Through The Arts confronts COVID-19

Hyperakt’s new interview series hands the mic to nonprofit and cultural leaders around the nation as they guide their organizations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today we’re talking with Katherine Vockins, Founder & Executive Director of Rehabilitation Through the Arts. RTA uses the transformative power of the arts to help people in prison develop skills to unlock their potential and succeed in the larger community. RTA also seeks to raise public awareness of the humanity behind prison walls.

From your vantage point, what stories are not being told about the impact of the Coronavirus?

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The United States incarcerates 2.3 million Americans in its prisons and jails. Most prisons and jails have poor healthcare and during this crisis, masks, hand cleaners and other ways of protecting oneself were/are still largely not available. Boxed in cages, men and women are just waiting to be infected by outsiders who enter the prisons/jails as corrections officers, administrative staff, medical help and assorted vendors. Do we know their stories?

Most incarcerated men and women come from underserved, undereducated and poor neighborhoods populated predominantly by brown and black individuals. The family members of the incarcerated are most often the ones infected by the virus as they are unable to keep the proper social distancing or personal care items in crowded apartments and workplaces and are essential workers who need their jobs and must travel daily to and from the work place. Where are their stories?

How have you needed to change how your staff works or the way you deliver services in order to meet the new reality?

We have significantly changed the way our team works by working remotely from our homes. Occasionally, one or two of us visit the office for specific items to retrieve having advised the team which day and which time to allow social distancing to be prepared. The installation of Microsoft 365 prior to the pandemic allows us to access all files, documents and each other through the Cloud and directly. We meet daily by Zoom, regular phone, text and emails. And Zoom Town Hall platforms has been a great platform to meet with our alumni and teaching artists, and to communicate and develop new ways of providing distance learning to the incarcerated men and women we serve.

What gives you hope in this moment?

We live and work in New York State. My hope comes from the leadership and inspiration we receive from our Governor Andrew Cuomo. In the midst of the current government administration’s ineptness and profound stupidity in “leading” our great country through this crisis, I am confident and hopeful New Yorkers will have the best chance in the nation to get through this difficult time and come out on the other side — in a hopeful and better place.

Update: RTA has built a timeline tracking their actions during COVID-19 to continue to support and connect with members. Check it out here.

Explore Rehabilitation Through the Arts at rta-arts.org and on Instagram. Read more interviews in the Portraits of Leadership series.

Hyperakt is a purpose-driven design and innovation studio that elevates human dignity and ignites curiosity. We believe in design’s power to build a future filled with courage, optimism, and honesty.

Are you a leader in the nonprofit, cultural, or design space? Want to share your perspective on confronting COVID-19? Please fill out this Google Form.

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Hyperakt crafts transformative brands and digital storytelling experiences for clear-eyed champions of social justice and creativity.

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