Talofa lava, everyone. It’s been busy over the past two months with the closing of the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2021 nominations. Thank you to everyone who submitted their nominations: it’s evident there is an amazing amount of great work happening in the Arts in Corrections sector.

A prison sketches the design for a kowhaiwhai panelIn April, we also saw the beginning of a new whakairo programme starting in Palmerston North, designed by Priscilla Carston, Regional Volunteer Co-ordinator, Manawatū Prison, and Mitchell Tareha, whakairo tutor and master carver, for former prisoners and people serving community sentences.

They will be working with staff from Community Corrections in the Lower North Island to deliver this ten-week intensive whakairo programme, which aims to further the participants’ understanding about Te Ao Māori and carving. I am looking forward to seeing the results of this mahi when I visit the Manawatū region on 8 June for the Arts in Corrections Lower North Island Network meeting. Please email me if you want to know more about the upcoming meeting.

Arts in Corrections Northern Network meeting

I am also visiting Auckland on 25 May, where I will host the Arts in Corrections Northern Network meeting and catch up with artists in the community. I’m keen to support and enhance any Pasifika initiatives in the Auckland region involving prison arts. If you are in the area and have the afternoon free, please get in touch and we can meet for a coffee.

Cover of the book Staging the PersonalI recently joined an online book launch of Staging the Personal and presentation by Professor Clark Baim, the author. Here, he discusses the ethical implications for theatre programmes and projects in prisons around staging personal stories and who gets to tell the story.

He uses a spiral to describe the different types of theatre programming and asks: Are we doing everything we can to keep people safe when we ask them to talk about their trauma? What’s the exchange? How are their stories portrayed?

The creative process can be chaotic at times, bringing up past traumas and memories for both participants and facilitators. This presentation highlights a larger discussion around working ethically. How do we know when we are working ethically? What measurements can ensure the safety of participants and facilitators in our programmes?

Strategies to help ensure safety

There are strategies you can employ to help ensure the safety of everyone involved, including:

  1. Go to all the inductions and training sessions, and follow the procedures. This is pretty straightforward and it’s about learning how to keep everyone safe. Read Home Ground’s artist training hui
  2. Get ethics approval or permissions through a Corrections official. Dr Fairleigh Gilmore and Amanda Coleman are continuing their research investigating performing arts in New Zealand prisons, including a comparative study between Arohata Women’s Prison and Otago Corrections Facility. To get access to the prison sites, they had to submit an application to do research with Ara Poutama Aotearoa’s Ethics Committee. This committee meets every three months to discuss and assess any applications to undertake research. If you want to do any research or write a report that will be shared outside of prisons, I suggest you email research@Corrections.govt.nz.
  3. Work with a qualified counsellor or psychologist about techniques. Getting them involved in your programme may help ensure everyone’s safety. You can brainstorm ideas and activities you’re planning and they could do a risk assessment.
  4. Think about the exchange. Who is benefitting from the programme and how? Should an artist in prison be able to benefit financially from the sale of an artwork, with the money going into a trust fund and therefore providing much-needed support when they are released? Prisoners doing work placements offsite are paid by an employer but those creating sculptures and paintings for an exhibition are not allowed to receive payment. There is more discussion needed around this topic. Exposure does not pay your bills; nor does it help with reintegration.

I’m interested to hear people’s feedback and will send a survey about whether prison artists should be paid for their artwork and provided employment pathways through their artmaking. I will present my findings in the next Arts in Corrections e-newsletter.

Musician Bonnie Schwarz playing the celloThank you, Bonnie, for writing the blog Arts and self-worth powerful tools for recovery about your experiences of the Arts in Corrections training you received as part of your drama and music degree at The University of Manchester. It would be great to see similar courses set up in universities here in Aotearoa.

Finally, I was pleased to read the article in The Dominion Post and on Stuff about the launch of the Māori Pathways programme at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison, where kaupapa Māori  and whānau-centred approaches are being used to turn around the lives of the men inside.

In the article Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says the new programme had its genesis in a “lightbulb moment” he’d experienced in the Hawkes Bay prison a few years ago.

“We make these positive changes in the men, they go back out in the same environment and are sort of like strangers to their families. We need to make sure their families are involved in the process and the changes they are making, so that they’re not strangers ... If the healing can be done together, it will mean the men are able to emerge and go on to be contributing members of their whānau and society.”

Working ethically in Arts in Corrections spaces


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