In late 2015, Ricky Jackson took the stage at TEDxMet. Having served a 39-year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. Many might have expected Ricky to talk about the justice system. Instead, Ricky took us on a journey to freedom, a journey that began in his childhood. His talk reminds us that the true power of museums isn’t their collections or spaces, but in the transformative power experienced by the people who visit them.
As Ricky states in his talk,
Art was my lifeline in prison, and, again, it’s a big reason and a big part of why I am the person I am today. My friends would always ask me, “Where do you take off to?” and “Where do you go?” And I just said “around” because I really didn’t want them to know that I was going to the museum. To me, that was my sanctuary, that was my place of refuge, that was my temple, my mosque, my synagogue. That was my holy place.
Art was the catalyst to get me to other vehicles in my life. I educated myself through art. I learned about the world through art. I learned about people, places through art. And this, again, was the main statement. Everything was falling apart in my life. I had stacks of art books in my cell. In fact, I had so many I had to get rid of them. A lot of them. Again, art, more than anything else I can honestly think of, is what got me here on this stage today. And just believing that there was something better out there, and I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t belong here, and art always reminded me of that.
Ricky goes on to discuss his exoneration and his first visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art after his release. Ricky’s description of how one object remained with him after nearly 40 years, and its impact on him when he visited again, is truly moving (and brought us to tears). Ricky’s talk reminds us that visitors find many things in museums – including home.
Watch the entire talk in the video below: