Artists look beyond Bars and Dorders at Coral Gables Museum

To produce “The Art of Compassion,” a heartfelt fusion of art and social change at the Coral Gables Museum, Starr Sariego gathered 20 fellow photographers — most of them local, some internationally known — and paired them with women just released from prison. She collaborated with the Miami-based Ladies Empowerment Action Program (LEAP), which provides instruction in life skills and entrepreneurship to incarcerated women preparing for transition. Upon release, graduates are greeted with transportation, a cell phone and other tangible necessities, plus employment and housing resources. And in this case, the women also met their volunteer photographers.

According to Sariego, recidivism among LEAP participants is lower than 5 percent after three years. The national failure rate for former convicts exceeds 70 percent.

“The Art of Compassion” presents photo portraits, audio commentaries and written testimonials that attest to broken family relationships, addiction and other misfortunes, while also celebrating triumphs over adversity. Liz, one of the project’s subjects, wrote, “Think what it’s like to live in a world where you divulge your life’s worst decision to everyone you meet.”

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