Art in the Cafe

We Are All Criminals

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Photo by Emily Baxter

About the Show

We Are All Criminals (WAAC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan project—and now organization—created by Emily Baxter. Emily is a former public defender, Bush Leadership Fellow, and former Fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice.

WAAC challenges society’s perception of what it means to be a criminal by turning the lens from the 1 in 4 people in the US with a criminal record to the other 75%—those who have not been burdened with an official reminder of a past mistake.

Participants tell stories of crimes they got away with. The participants are doctors and lawyers, social workers and students, retailers and retirees who consider how very different their lives would be had they been caught. The photographs, while protecting the participants’ identities, convey personality, individuality, and humanity: each is taken in the participant’s home, office, crime scene, or neighborhood. The stories are of youth, boredom, intoxication, and porta potties. They are humorous, humiliating, and humbling in turn. They are privately held memories without public stigma; they are criminal histories without criminal records.

We Are All Criminals is also a commentary on the disparate impact of our nation’s policies, policing, and prosecution: many of the participants have benefited from belonging to a race and class that is not overrepresented in the legal system. Permanent and public criminal records perpetuate inequities, precluding millions from countless opportunities to move on and move up. WAAC calls out the injustice in those policies.

This project underscores one simple fact: we are more than the sum of our mistakes. In the words of the gentleman who inspired the project, “One in four, one in four, one in four. I am not alone, I am not broken. Four in four, four in four, four in four. We may all be criminals, but that’s not all we are.”

Learn more about WAAC on their website.

Interested Artists

Artists interested in showing their work at the cafe can send us an email with a letter of interest, resume, and at least five work samples.