About Arts to Excel

The mission of Arts to Excel is to use the creative energy of photography and the arts to help incarcerated people get in touch with their own own potential and humanity. Started by renowned Chicago photographer Christopher Jacobs, Arts to Excel's core program is based at the Cook County Jail’s Mental Health Transition Center (MHTC). 

Not only is Cook County Jail the largest single-site jail in America, but with one in three inmates suffering from mental health issues, it’s also the country’s largest mental health facility. Partnering with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Department of Corrections Executive Director Dr. Nneke Jones Tapia, Jacobs works with MHTC inmates who don’t have a history of violence, but do have a history of mental illness. Often times, when these individuals reach the MHTC, it’s the first time they’re receiving treatment for their mental illness. 

Through things like regular photography classes, drum circles, and training in advertising, Jacobs works with his MHTC students to see things differently through instruction in creative arts. Jacobs recently started a creative writing program for inmates in Cook County Jail's maximum-security Division X and is looking to expand programs to positively impact the lives of as many inmates as possible. The end goal is to give these inmates a better chance at a productive life after being released.

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