Over the past few months I’ve been hearing from prison staff and artists about the impact of the pause on arts programmes across prison sites. Everyone recognises the need for COVID-19 restrictions to keep people safe but now that these restrictions are gradually lifting, Arts in Corrections Network members face a different issue: staffing shortages in prison sites.
Since early 2020, New Zealand has been battling COVID-19. This, combined with the cancellation of arts programming in several prisons, means that it’s easy to feel pessimistic about achieving a thriving Arts in Corrections sector, where the arts are recognised as a valuable tool to support prisoners’ rehabilitation.
What is evident in the recent Arts in Corrections Network meetings in Wellington and in Christchurch is the commitment and passion of its members. Many are still keen to work on developing their arts programmes despite the current staffing issues and restrictions.
On a bright note, initiatives like Arts Access Aotearoa’s Whakahoa Kaitoi i Te Ara Poutama Arts in Corrections Artist Fellowship will increase our capacity to build stronger pathways for former prisoners living in the community.
Support at least ten Arts in Corrections projects
In addition, recipients of the Cultural Wellbeing and Creative Arts Fund (a partnership between Ara Poutama Aotearoa Department of Corrections and Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage) will be announced soon. This will support at least ten Arts in Corrections projects and will be a great boost to the sector.
I’m excited at the possibilities of what this funding could achieve.
In lieu of face-to-face arts programming, we’ve seen several initiatives that use printed resources so that men and women in prison can continue benefiting from the arts.
At Hawkes Bay Regional Prison, for instance, Arts Educational Tutor Gilli Marshall has been creating art resources and working with publishing company 5ever Books to create journals/workbooks for the men to continue their art practice when some art programmes may not be available. 5ever Books is also working with other prison sites to make these journals available.
The education team at Corrections has produced a series of activity books with a lot of arts activities for men and women in prison sites. In 2020, Arts Access Aotearoa worked with the team on its Brain Bytes initiative and collaborated with artists to build art resources and so it’s great to see the development of these books.
A valuable community handbook for women in the justice system
The Homeground Collective has also published a valuable community handbook for women in the justice system. It was written by women in the Homeground programme, who know how frightening and difficult it can be to reintegrate.
It also offers some creative tips for women on how to maintain their arts practice and creativity when they are released.
Another great resource is Youth Arts NZ’s Te Kāhui Creative Writing Programme, which has now produced three creative writing exercise workbooks. The first two were developed in early 2020 in response to the COVID-19 lockdown so that rangatahi in Mt Eden Corrections Facility could still have access to creative writing.
Positive impact of the creative writing programme
In the story A creative voice for rangatahi in prison, Programme Manager Michelle Rahurahu-Scott talks about the positive impact of the creative writing programme.
I strongly believe that digital access for prisoners at all prison sites would enhance the delivery of more arts programming. As the Department’s Hōkai Rangi Strategy states: "Access to culture is a fundamental right, not a privilege, regardless of a person’s circumstances such as security classification, behaviour, gang affiliation, gender or therapeutic needs.”
For Māori, the arts – whakairo, kowhaiwhai, waiata, raranga, kapa haka, toi atea – are integral to Te Ao Māori and their culture. Digital access would support this “access to culture” when face-to-face programming is not a safe option.
Arts Access Aotearoa will continue to advocate for progress on the development of a national Arts in Corrections framework. We will also continue working with those artists and facilitators unable to deliver in prisons, connecting them with Community Corrections if they wish to deliver their programmes in the community
Finally, I do hope Arts in Corrections Network members registered for Ngā Wāhi Auaha Creative Spaces Conference 2022 and are enjoying the conference. It was organised by Arts Access Aotearoa and is being held online over 1 and 2 November.
The presentations include keynote speaker Hon Justice Joseph Williams(Ngati Pūkenga, Waitaha and Tapuika) discussing the transformative power of art for social justice. The presentations and resources will be available online after the conference.