Gilli Marshall, Educational Arts Tutor at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison, took up the fulltime role a year ago after teaching art, woodwork and technology design in secondary schools since 2004.
“I’ve worked a lot with troubled young people in low-decile schools, and wanted to extend that and use my skills to make a positive impact on the men in prison,” she explains. “The kids I taught were very receptive to my classes, and it gave them pride and confidence. I see the same thing happening with the men I teach.”
Also an artist with a masters degree in professional creative practice, Gilli has created a dozen booklets for her students in Hawkes Bay Regional Prison, starting with the principles of art-making.
Other topics include blind contour and expressive line; implied line drawing; gestural and scribble line; hatching, cross hatching and technical line drawing; tone and texture; using shapes in art; the art of drawing a face; and drawing the native birds of New Zealand.
At the moment, she’s working on booklet 13 about the golden ratio and how it works in Māori design.
“The men work through the booklets, which have been invaluable during lockdowns,” Gilli says. “At the end of each booklet, there’s space for the men to provide feedback. I assess their work and also give them feedback. Plus they get certificates when they’ve completed a booklet – something to say ‘Well done’.”
Booklets a valuable resource
The booklets are also a valuable resource for future art tutors in the prison, she says.
Chris Ulutupu, Arts in Corrections Advisor at Arts Access Aotearoa, commends the prison for creating this new role. “Hawkes Bay Regional Prison is a champion of the arts and recognises the benefits. It would be great if other prisons were to follow suit.”
Once the men complete Gilli’s course, they have the necessary skills to undertake tertiary study through The Learning Connexion’s distance learning programme.
Sharon Hall, who manages the prison art and creativity programme at The Learning Connexion, recently emailed Gilli: “You are clearly doing a wonderful job supporting our learners. I have spent the afternoon putting together Level 5 portfolios. The records from Hawkes Bay stand out, both in terms of the quality of work and the diversity of experimentation.”
Online teaching with the youth unit
Earlier this month, Gilli returned to the prison after teaching offsite for ten weeks because of COVID-19 restrictions. She did online teaching with the youth unit while the men were able to work through the booklets.
“It was a good learning curve for everyone, me included, and the young men had to learn to keep on-task. I set up my easel at home so they could follow what I was doing, step by step. It was the first time they had used paint rather than pencils and I was impressed with what they achieved.”
She says her students are often very good copy artists but when they begin her course, they don’t have the necessary background, knowledge and technical skills.
“I teach them art terminology so they understand what they’re doing. I also show them the different sources of media they can use, and then talk to them about how to build a narrative around their art. I say: ‘Behind every artist and artwork there’s a story. What does this work mean to you and what are you wanting to say?’”
As Gilli walks through the prison site, she says she is often stopped and asked by men how they can join her course.
“I take their names if I have time or tell them to let their Corrections Officer know,” she explains. “I hope my course helps these men resolve their issues and heal. Art is therapy and a fantastic medium for the men to explore their creativity.
“It’s a humanising and healing process, breaks down boundaries and can change attitudes.”
For some, she says, it’s a viable career option.
Getting to "know the ropes"
Gilli enjoys her job at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison, now that she “knows the ropes”. When she first started, she didn’t know how things worked and how to access the budget for art materials.
“I used cardboard and old music sheets: anything I could get my hands on,” she recalls. “I thought it would be the same as teaching in high schools but understandably, there are things you can’t do. Now, I talk to people and find out ways to do things. It’s easy to stumble so it’s best to ask.”
Asked about three key things she has learned about teaching art in a prison, Gilli says she’s learned:
- how to say “no” to the men
- resilience, humility and humanity
- how to express pride to the men about what they’ve achieved.
Gilli says that Chris Ulutupu provided “awesome advice” when she first started the job while the prison’s education team – Tony, Vicki William, Rosemary, Naema, Vincent and Dave – is an ongoing source of support and her “go-to” people.