Brush With the Law – Prison Art

Handcuff and brush

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♦ Brush with the Law is a fiscally sponsored non profit art program that has been developed for the Montgomery County Correctional Facility located in Eagleville, PA. It is an art program designed for both male and female inmates (classes are separate) to learn and implement self expression in a more positive way.  My hope is to eventually be able to make this program available in other county prisons within the Philadelphia and surrounding suburb 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 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. The Academy is where I learned not only how to draw and paint but more importantly how to take an idea and build upon it thoroughly and effectively.

♦ 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.

♦ Bringing arts to institutionalized individuals is based in the belief that participation in the artistic process significantly affects a person’s self-esteem and general outlook on the world. This program is based on the value of providing the incarcerated an alternative, rehabilitative way to express themselves in a nonverbal, nonjudgmental atmosphere. The directives for the classes progress from simple to complex and from individually focused to group focused. The class starts with a somewhat simple project of name embellishment whereby the student/inmate is given a medium sized piece of canvas and asked only to use the letters of their name to create a piece of art that will introduce themselves to someone whom they have never met before. This encourages the student to think of who they are or who they hope to be by using colors, shapes, symbols, collage of images, whatever to explain themselves visually without any words besides their names. They also must think of how they want to be perceived by the person they are introducing themselves to.

♦ Eventually, I would like to curate the inmates’ works in an art gallery exhibition open to the public. If you would like to host an art exhibition of the inmate’s work please CONTACT me.

Click HERE to read an article I wrote for Psychology Today. It is part of a blog series hosted by David Gussak,Ph.D., ATR-BC

Click HERE to read an article written by Michael Goldberg for the Reporter Newspaper

Brush with the Law is a Fiscally Sponsored Project  100% Secure Online Tax Deductible Donations accepted at

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This program is proudly sponsored in part by

Leeway Arts and Change Grant

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PA Council on the Arts c/o Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance