Sharon Hall: artist and tutor

16 March 2010 Sharon Hall, Restricted Programmes Co-ordinator and prison tutor at The Learning Connexion, talks to Arts Access Aotearoa about being an artist and facilitating the prison art programme for TLC.

What is your background in the arts?

Art was always the subject I most enjoyed at school so studying at a tertiary level was a natural progression. I loved being a student and was initially set on becoming a painter but ended up graduating with a BFA, majoring in ceramics and glass. Since art school I have sought jobs in the arts field to supplement my income. This has included working for TLC, World of WearableArt and Hoglund Art Glass.

How do you divide your time between your own practice and working at The Learning Connexion?

Making glass sculpture for select galleries and exhibitions and working at TLC provides a good balance, and I find that working with students inspires me to continue experimenting within my own art practice. I take both these roles pretty seriously, which means that I have to manage my time effectively.

 Why work in prisons?

With prison students, the inclination to be creative is generally already there and it just needs assistance by way of time, materials and encouragement to come to fruition. The emphasis is on the actual “doing”, which works particularly well for people who haven’t had an earlier positive education experience or are more kinesthetic learners.

I get enormous job satisfaction helping students reach their goals. I’m continually amazed by the resourcefulness and determination when students take risks and break out of formula ways of working. I enjoy the prison environment because it comes without the trappings of the art world.

Why do you think the arts are a useful tool for prisoner students?   

Art encompasses so much more than just acquiring basic technical ability. Anyone making art is constantly problem-solving and working through frustrations. This includes taking risks, learning from your mistakes and developing strategies for better outcomes. Art-making also develops an alternative and constructive means of communicating. You don’t need to be educated to present an idea. 

For most of our graduates, it’s also the first time they have completed a tertiary education course and gained an NZQA qualification. It’s a real buzz for them.

What kind of art training and facilities are available to students when they leave prison and want to continue working on their art?

Students who begin their TLC courses in prison continue their studies with us once they’ve been released. Our goal for them is to graduate. We try to make their transition into the community as smooth as possible by offering additional support and encouragement. Students who are released within the Wellington region are also encouraged to attend classes at our on-site campus.

 Do you think there’s a place for prison art in galleries?

Definitely. In fact, there’s a growing awareness particularly in publicly funded spaces of the need to reach wider sectors of the community. However, prison art is not really visible in established galleries. 

How do you think the arts community – in fact, people in general – should respond to work by prisoners and ex-offenders?

Just be open-minded. The public who visit TLC and see their work are always intrigued and interested. As a school,  we are immensely proud of their achievements.

What are some realistic employment possibilities for TLC students on release from prison?

Gaining a TLC certificate or diploma requires evidence of commitment, innovation, creativity, time management skills and the ability to carry a task to completion. This is in addition to their  portfolio of artwork produced.

Our graduates are employed in a variety of areas: for example, graphic design, illustration, community/social work and art administration. Or they may become self-employed practising artists while undertaking part-time work. Others have gone on to further training in culinary arts, landscape design,  animation and film.

What are three ingredients that artists wanting to work with prisoners need?

Patience, persistence and being non-judgmental.

What do you most value about your work in New Zealand prisons?

Helping students realise their full potential and the positive contribution they can make to themselves, their families, whānau and community.


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