A creative space for prisoners on release

26 May 2016
“People coming out of a prison can be institutionalised and feel isolated. Joining community groups to paint, write or perform can be empowering and provide a sense of whānau and collectiveness.”

Conference delegates mark their place on a New Zealand mapJacqui Moyes, Art in Corrections Advisor, Arts Access Aotearoa, spoke to delegates at a conference last month for people working in community-based creative spaces around the country. Called Creative Spaces 2020: building a strong future for the sector, the conference was organised by Arts Access Aotearoa.

Creative spaces are organisations where people can make art, or participate in artistic activities such as theatre, dance, music, film and creative writing. They provide space, resources and assistance in ways that lead to self-expression, empowerment and self-development.

A role for creative spaces

In her presentation, Jacqui spoke about current arts activities and programmes happening in New Zealand prisons. She also talked about the role creative spaces might play in supporting prisoners on release coming back into the community.

“Creative spaces have the structure and can provide professional tuition in a safe, inclusive space for prisoners on release,” Jacqui said. “Some creative spaces have also delivered classes or art projects in prisons. This means that when men and women are released, they already have a connection with the space and can continue their art making in the community.”

Shar Young, Vincents Art Workshop, in Arohata Prison A mural project, delivered by Wellington creative space Vincents Art Workshop, ran at Arohata Prison for two years from late 2012. In the weekly classes, women prisoners were supported and guided by two of Vincents’ staff members – its Coordinator, Glen McDonald, and art tutor Shar Young. 

Reflecting on the mural project, Glen is clear about the benefits of contracting creative spaces to deliver art sessions in prisons.

“There’s much research that shows the importance of people having a place to come to when they are reintegrating into their community,” Glen says. “Creative spaces can provide a positive, consistent creative outlet but prisoners need to know about them before they are released. One of the women in the project began attending Vincents' studios on a day-release programme before she left the prison and she still comes back from time to time.”

In Christchurch, SkillWise and its creative space, The White Room, have been contracted to deliver art classes in the Youth Unit of Christchurch Men’s Prison. Two art tutors are working with the young men to create murals for areas such as the youth gymnasium, the visitors’ hall.

The two art tutors also work at Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, a community-based arts and wellbeing initiative in Christchurch. Kim Morton, Project Manager of Ōtautahi Creative Spaces, says the space welcomes former inmates to their art groups.

Kim Morton, Otautahi Creative Spaces, at the Creative Spaces 2020 conference“We’re working with Pathways, a prisoner re-integration service in Christchurch, so that people returning to the community will know how to access our programmes, and can feel supported and included by being part of a creative community,” Kim says.

In her presentation, Jacqui encouraged creative spaces to think about their role in providing access to the arts and creativity to former prisoners. She also issued a note of caution.

“Before approaching the Department of Corrections, are a lot of things you need to consider a lot of things such as timing, ongoing professional support, funding and sustainability,” she says.

Building and maintaining relationships

Jacqui also talked about the importance of building and maintaining relationships. “Based on my own experience, some big organisations are keen to reach out to real people in the community but they don’t have the access.

“It’s important to put yourself out there because you never know who is listening and will want to support your project.”

For people interested in volunteering their artistic skills, Jacqui said it was important before approaching Corrections to be sure you were able to meet the commitment.

“For example, can you turn up every Wednesday night? Can you afford the cost of petrol to get there every week? What if you run out of materials and you have to wait six weeks before they are replenished?”

Acting as a facilitator

As Arts in Corrections Advisor, Jacqui said she could act as a facilitator and help make sure things ran smoothly.

“My job is a bit like a translation service. How do you write proposals for creative projects in the language of Corrections? I look at proposals, talk to staff, and can hopefully put you in touch with the right people.”

Contact Jacqui Moyes, Arts Access Aotearoa (T: 04 802 4349 E: jacqui.moyes@artsaccess.org.nz) to discuss your ideas and Arts in Corrections proposals.

Arts Access Aotearoa’s website has a directory of creative spaces from Northland through to Southland. 

A creative space for prisoners on release


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