Columbia College Chicago Collective Impact Series: Piven Theatre Presents on Workshop Impacting the Lives of Incarcerated Women

Brenda Robinson addresses the crowdColumbia College Chicago, Photo by Phil Dembinski '08
As part of its Collective Impact Series, Columbia College Chicago hosts a presentation by Piven Theatre Workshop on using theatre to impact the lives of women incarcerated at Cook County Jail.


Since Fall 2018, Columbia College Chicago has been highlighting exhibitions, performances, and presentations as part of Collective Impact, an initiative that seeks to explore community engagement and social justice in art making. One of the key goals of Columbia’s Collective Impact Series is to bring students, faculty, and the community together with nationally distinguished artists to examine what it takes to collaborate to create and sustain a collective impact though arts and media.

The focus of this year’s series is on the ways that art can foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive society. Every event in the series includes a performance or exhibition and a lecture or artist talk.

Mary Filice, Chair of the Business and Entrepreneurship Department at Columbia College Chicago, invited Piven Theatre Workshop to be part of Columbia College Chicago’s Collective Impact Series. Piven Theatre Workshop encourages a process of creative exploration in an ensemble-based, community-oriented approach to theatre performance. Piven presented on their Ensemble Play in Cook County Jail (EPIC), which is a theatre ensemble composed of women in Division Five of the country’s largest jail, Cook County. Each spring, summer, and fall Piven’s teaching artists work with incarcerated women for eight to 12 weeks to play theatre games and put together a final performance.

“We feel very strongly about taking our resources and using them to give others a voice,” said Brenda Robinson, a philanthropist and partner in Gamechanger Films who was a speaker on the presentation’s panel. “We created this program to provide access—a pipeline of opportunity—and to show that there are other ways to express yourself and find yourself.

“One thing I love about this program is that you get to know these women and recognize how grateful they are just to be seen and to be heard,” Robinson added. “There was initially a waitlist of about 70 women for the program. Those that did go through the program went out to the general population and were teaching the other inmates the gams that they learned. They learned how to create community in that way.”

She notes that in addition to having an impact on the women, the program also affected the behavior of the guards who witnessed the program. “They were getting to know these games and watching these women express themselves. In that way, they developed greater empathy for them as human beings.”

Filice, who also currently helps manage the Collective Impact Series, explained the importance of bringing these presentations to Columbia. “We want our students to experience the transformative power of the creative sector, to understand how artists work with arts managers, entrepreneurs, and organizations collectively to positively impact our communities and the lives of others,” she said.

The presentation brought together 112 attendees made up of students, faculty, staff, and the general community. 


Daisy Franco
Communications Manager