Eastern State Penitentiary Opens Two Dramatic Spaces, Presents Groundbreaking Artist Installations, and Launches Speaker Series for 2012 Season

Mar 15, 2012, 13:35 ET from Eastern State Penitentiary

PHILADELPHIA, March 15, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site kicks off its 2012 season by opening two dramatic new spaces, presenting four new artist installations, and launching a Searchlight Series to discuss current correctional issues.  An overview of 2012 programming follows:

"Life and Death Weekend" on Saturday and Sunday, March 31 and April 1 celebrates new Hands-On History stops and the opening of dramatic new spaces:

"The Ruins of Death Row" takes visitors into the collapsing exercise yards of Cellblock 15, Eastern State's Death Row.  The starkly modern cellblock was the last to be added to Eastern State Penitentiary and held some of Pennsylvania's most violent, aggressive criminals.  Death Row's dedicated exercise yard has high walls and its own small guard tower.  The yards today are among the most ruinous spaces at Eastern State.

"The Operating Room" takes visitors into the long-abandoned surgical space, part of the prison's once state-of-the-art hospital.  Completed in 1910, the sterile Operating Room in Cellblock 3 provided a vastly improved surgical environment over the earlier space used – an inmate's individual cell.  The Operating Room, converted from two single cells and three exercise yards, was part of a larger renovation to turn the entire cellblock into a complete hospital.  There were more than 100 surgeries a year performed in this operating room by 1920.  Al Capone had his tonsils removed there in September 1929.  By the 1950s and 60s, Eastern State's medical wing was a sophisticated prison hospital, with inmates from other facilities being transferred to the penitentiary for treatment of challenging medical conditions.  Today, the space is in a profound state of ruin, but the massive surgical light still hangs in the middle of the room.

"Families at Eastern State" explores the strange, unexpected, and often heartfelt relationships that existed between family members at Eastern State during its 142-year history. Wardens, guards, and their families set up residence in different parts of the penitentiary. Visitors can step into the ground floor of one of Eastern State's corner guard towers, discovering evidence of a former residence. Unique personal stories are revealed about a group of brothers who served more than 150 years combined at Eastern State, a warden's daughter's wedding inside the cellblocks, and women who gave birth inside the prison's walls.

The Searchlight Series
Eastern State Penitentiary partners with local organizations to present a four-part discussion series relating to crime and contemporary correctional issues:

  • Monday, May 7, 6:00 p.m. – Prison Through The Eyes of the Falsely Convicted
  • Monday, May 21, 6:00 p.m. – From Robben Island to Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei: Prisons as Tools for Political Repression
  • Monday, June 4, 6:00 p.m.Lynne Abraham and the Case for a Robust, But Fair, Criminal Justice System
  • Monday, June 18, 6:00 p.m. – The Social Cost of Imprisonment

Each discussion in the Searchlight Series will focus on a different contemporary issue and will feature guest speakers from both Eastern State and other organizations.  The discussions will be open to the public for a fee of $5.00 and free for members of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.

Artist Installations
Eastern State Penitentiary welcomes four new artists to its growing artist installation program.  Artists are chosen for their ability to address Eastern State's primary themes – including issues of crime and justice, architectural history, and the site's fascinating past – with a memorable, thought-provoking approach.  To celebrate a new season of artist installations, the historic site will host a reception on Friday, May 11, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  The public is welcome to attend, free of charge, for a chance to meet the artists and see the new exhibits. 

There are four new and seven returning artists installations.  The new installations for 2012 are as follows:

Lisa Bateman: Next Year
The front pages of New Year's Day newspapers provide a timeline of the prison and of the missing realities, hopes and dreams unavailable to the incarcerated.

Tyler Held: Identity Control
Reflecting on the idea that  man is "too easily reduced to an object" when institutionalized, the artists uses a car as a metaphor for relinquished individuality.

Ryan Lesgassicke: States of Security / Security States
Full-scale silhouettes of barriers around the world encourage thinking about the use of walls and fences as a means of protection, security, and separation.

Judith Schaechter: The Battle of Carnival and Lent
Seventeen stained glass windows inspired by Eastern State address in a "non-religious way the psychological border territory between 'spiritual aspiration' and human suffering."

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone.

Tours today include the cellblocks, solitary punishment cells, Al Capone's Cell, and Death Row. A critically acclaimed series of artist installations is free with admission. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for students and children ages 7-12 (not recommended for children under the age of seven). The penitentiary is open every day, year round. April through November, admission includes "The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi.  For more information and schedules, please call (215) 236-3300 or visit www.EasternState.org.

Related Links:
Press Section of our Website

SOURCE Eastern State Penitentiary