Brush With the Law – Prison Art

Handcuff and brush

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My vision is to create and teach an art program to prison inmates (both male and female – separately) starting within the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville, PA, and eventually other county prisons within the Philadelphia area. I am an artist from a suburb right outside of Philadelphia, PA and have been teaching art/art “therapy” at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Center for Rehabilitation located at 36th and Chestnut Sts. in Philadelphia, PA for the past 3 years and I am looking to expand my venture to supply an unmet need within the prison system of Pennsylvania. I received my Masters of Fine Art from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, PA and my Bachelors of Fine Art from Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. My inspiration is based on the value of providing the incarcerated an alternative and meaningful way to express themselves in a nonverbal, nonjudgmental atmosphere.  My plan would be to provide these sessions separately to each gender one day a week initially, and in due course twice a week.

I would like to use the practice of creating visual art as a catalyst for positive transformation.  In this process patient application and vivid imagination prompts the imprisoned mind to be thoughtful, self-reflective, and to discover a means of self expression other than crime. Too often, the prison system punishes negative behaviors but offers little to replace them. I believe that the capacity for personal change is great, and I would like to act on that belief by providing a positive experience, which has been to known to be very effective. My intention is to  create a sanctuary where inmates are treated with respect, courtesy and an openness to their unique expressions as creative human beings.

This art program is not designed to simply teach drawing and painting techniques (although my guidance would be there for this purpose as needed)but will be centered around the idea of art for self-expression and personal self discovery. It has been proven that many inmates have an inherent mistrust for verbal disclosure. Participants will use colors, shapes and imagery to express their feelings on subjects they cannot verbally articulate. The artistic process is believed to help alleviate depressive symptoms and provide an alternate means of escape.  It can also instill a sense of self worth and identity. My goal is to encourage the inmates so that the work will be imbued with their energy and feelings, and to see art as a tool to portray who they are as human beings and to describe inner feelings that cannot be expressed easily by words.

The directives for the sessions will progress from simple to complex and from individually focused to group focused. This schedule facilitates the development of problem-solving and socialization skills. Some examples of these tasks to include: name embellishment (simple/individually-focused); white-paper sculpture (complex/individually-focused); draw-and-pass (simple/group-focused); group colored paper sculpture of dream environment (complex/group-focused).  A full list of class projects can be supplied upon request.

Eventually, I would like to curate the inmates’ works in an art gallery exhibition open to the public.

Donations being accepted at  fractured-atlas_symbol