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Catalyst for dialogue between communities and prisons

22 August 2011

"During my 21 years working in prisons, I have seen art, in particular, the cultural arts, change men for the better. In the past five years, we have worked on sharing prisoner art with our communities and on every occasion it has been a positive experience, opening a positive dialogue between our communities and prisons using art as the catalyst."

This are the words of Mark Lynds, a manager at the Northland Region Corrections Facility and champion of the arts as a tool supporting rehabilitation. He spoke to more than 200 guests at the Big ‘A’ Awards 2011 ceremony and presented the Big ‘A’ Prison arts Leadership Award to Sharon Hall. Mark is a former recipient of this award.

This is Mark’s speech:

"If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him,” John F Kennedy once said.

No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes. He sees it edited by a defined set of customs, institutions and ways of thinking.

The customs and norms of prison life are far from what most artists would imagine as stimulating, yet through the work of art tutors, visiting artists, staff and our communities working with the Department of Corrections, prisoners are able to gain insight into the art world outside of their environment.

Mark Lynds presented the Big 'A' Prison Arts Leadership Award 2011Performing arts, visual arts and cultural arts such as tukutuku and whakairo are powerful tools to aid rehabilitation by reconnecting men to their rich cultural heritage.

Art builds self-esteem. It is a reflective process, drawing out what is good in the artist. Art is not violent. Art is not selfish. Art is liberating.  

During my 21 years working in prisons, I have seen art – in particular, the cultural arts – change men for the better. In the past five years, we have worked on sharing prisoner art with our communities and on every occasion it has been a positive experience, opening a positive dialogue between our communities and prisons using art as the catalyst.
 
Many of the long-term artists I have worked with at Auckland and Northland prisons have been released and have successfully reintegrated back into society. Several operate their own art-making businesses.

Others are continuing to teach carving to youth in their communities in an attempt to break the intergenerational offending cycle.

Art is the counterweight to everything that daily determines our life. It is perhaps the best chance to win back some self-esteem and self-determination.

Art is a powerful tool for change and it can set men free.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

 
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