Art tutor’s work in prisons recognised
30 July 2013
Waikato artist Ann Byford picked up a pamphlet one day about volunteering in prisons and says it was like an angel knocking on her door.
In October 2011, she became a volunteer art tutor in the Karaka Special Treatment Unit at Waikeria Prison near Te Awamutu. In July 2013, she was presented Arts Access Aotearoa’s Big ‘A’ Prison Arts Leadership Award, recognising her outstanding contribution in using the arts as a tool supporting the rehabilitation of prisoners.
“I’m overwhelmed to be recognised for my volunteer work because it means that I have achieved something in my work with the men,” Ann says. “It also inspires me to keep doing what I do.”
A rewarding experience
Ann, who has a Bachelor of Media Art with a major in painting and sculpture, says that teaching art to prisoners is “extremely rewarding”.
“The reward for my work is the feeling I get from helping others, and seeing the men develop and learn new skills,” she says.
“When you’re teaching you’re learning: it’s not a one-way street. As the men explore and express themselves through art, I get insights into their thoughts and ideas. I learn that there are many ways of viewing the world.”
One of the participants in Ann’s art classes writes: “Throughout my life I’ve not dealt well with intense emotions. Ann has given me a positive outlet for this. I’m not a great artist and I don’t know if I ever will be. What I do know is I enjoy painting and it is helping me on my journey of change.”
The Big ‘A’ Awards’ judging panel commented on Ann’s ability to work with prisoners at all levels of ability. “We loved Ann’s innovative and sustainable use of materials. She is a leading example of someone able to work within the prison system and deliver a successful art programme. To do this requires patience, adaptability and the ability to gain respect and foster good staff.”
Providing consistency and stability
In October last year, Ann was contracted by Corrections to teach art to prisoners at Spring Hill Corrections Facility, also in the Waikato. And then in February this year, her volunteer role at Waikeria Prison became a contracted position.
Ann teaches two painting classes a week at each prison. She follows a ten-week programme where the men learn canvas-making, painting techniques and processes. The programme concludes at the end of each term with an exhibition.
“The main focus of the programme is for the men to achieve something in a short amount of time,” Ann explains. “They commit to a project from start to finish. It gives them consistency and stability in creating something positive.
“Having their artwork exhibited gives the men a sense of achievement and helps to build confidence in themselves and their art.”
Paul Whitehead, Principal Psychologist at Karaka Special Treatment Unit, says that Ann’s enthusiasm for guiding the men in their art process has been pivotal in improving outcomes in the treatment unit. “We really value the contribution she makes.”
In 2012, a sculpture created by prisoners in Ann’s class was one of 17 finalists in the National Fieldays No. 8 Wire Art Awards and featured alongside the other finalists in Arts Post in Hamilton.
This year, a new project has been set up in which the men in Ann’s classes are developing an installation of paintings that will be used to provide positive messages in the custody area of Hamilton Police Station.