Over the past year, most arts programmes and activities in prisons have been put on hold or greatly reduced because of necessary COVID-19 restrictions. Arts in Corrections Network members, however, are continuing to look for ways to build their programmes and provide opportunities for prisoners to participate in the arts.

Cover of Te Kāhui creative writing programme exercise bookletThe Department of Corrections has also been working to continue providing arts opportunities for prisoners across Aotearoa. This includes its Volunteer Co-ordinators, who have been finding new ways of working to provide arts activities. Initiatives like Brain Bites and Te Kāhui creative writing programme are also helping to service this gap.

When I was doing my artist residency in Dunedin earlier this year, I talked to Rue-Jade Morgan, Ruth Ratcliffe and Annah Mac who facilitate arts programmes in Otago Corrections Facility. They all face similar access issues and find distance learning difficult compared to face-to-face classes.

This is also reflected in feedback I’ve had from many Arts in Corrections Network members. Even though there are still opportunities for prisoners to participate in the arts, is there anything else we could do to enable more men and women in prison to have increased access to arts programmes?

Granmother's saying highlights preparation and sustainability

“E le mafai ona faasoa atu fua o le nuu, pe afai e leai ni manu felelei.” Fruit cannot be enjoyed by the village, if there are no birds in the sky.
When I think about what is needed during these times, I think of this saying from my grandmother – something she would say to highlight the importance of preparation and sustainability.

My grandmother understood the symbiotic relationship between birds and the role they play in the eco system. Her saying specifically references the manumea, the toothbilled pigeon – an endangered bird, similar to the dodo and native to Samoa.

In the village of Si’umu, my grandmother would look for manumea in the area and if they were plentiful so were the fruits and flowers that year. If there were few birds, there were few fruits to enjoy.

As a metaphor, I see the fruits as opportunities for growth while the manumea is the Arts in Corrections Network. For development and growth, we need opportunities for prisoners, especially when art programmes in prisons start to open up again.

We can develop and create new opportunities but we also need to know what’s already available. Below are four ideas.

The Department’s national office at Mayfair House in Wellington

 This is a dedicated space for exhibiting prisoner artwork, facilitated by Sharon Hall, who also works at The Learning Connexion. If you know of a prison artist or a former prisoner who has a range of works ready to be exhibited, this could be an opportunity to have their work on display. At the moment, there’s an exhibition of weaving by the men in Whanganui Prison who attend Juanita Davis’ workshop. Please go and check it out.

The Learning Connexion’s new gallery space

There’s a new gallery space at The Learning Connexion in Taita, part of which will be dedicated to prisoners who are studying through its distance learning programme. If you have prisoners who are currently enrolled in this programme, please feel free to enquire about this exciting new exhibition space.

Koestler Arts and building community engagement

Koestler Arts in the UK is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary. Entries for this year’s awards have closed but in any case, entry to these amazing Koestler Awards is available only to people in the UK.

I’d love to see Aotearoa with its own Koestler Awards but in lieu of this, I urge Arts in Corrections Network members to talk to their local arts organisations and galleries about the possibility of a prison arts exhibition.

If you need help connecting with these spaces, please feel free to contact me (E: aic@artsaccess.org.nz) for advice.

Arts Access Aotearoa’s Arts in Corrections fellowship

You can read about the 2022 fellowships on Arts Access Aotearoa’s website, including one for a former prisoner or someone engaged in the justice system. Applicant will need to have undertaken an Arts in Corrections approved programme.

We will be calling for applications from Friday 1 July and applicants will have one month to submit their proposals.

For more information about opportunities in this blog, please email me: aic@artsaccess.org.nz 



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