Developing visual arts group projects in prison

22 August 2011

Corina Hazlett, a Canterbury artist and prison art tutor, has worked with prisoners this year to complete two mural projects – one at Christchurch Men's Prison and the other at Christchurch Women's Prison.

In this article, she presents some of her processes of managing a visual arts project within Canterbury Prisons that meet staff and security requirements there.

Corina says there’s a lot to think about when she’s developing a group project within the prison environment – from the initial brief and finding the resources to the regular meetings and the constant reviewing.

Prison art tutor Corina Hazlett“When I’m working on group projects, I have to make sure I have a thorough brief from the project initiator and a clear vision of what the end product will be,” she says.
“My next step is to brainstorm with the prison artists and Corrections staff involved in the project to discuss the key themes, ideas and storyline.  I’m careful to consider the perspective and thinking of different cultural groups taking part, and ensure the group will be respectful of other people’s ideas and of their work.”
At this stage, I also decide with the Corrections staff involved:
•    where the project art can be made
•    where the wet panels or canvases will be stored safely
•    who will be in charge of stacking them once they are dry so they are out of the way
•    the date for the completion of the project.
“Once these initial decisions have been made, I write up a report so we have a structure to refer to,” Corina says.

A list of materials and resources

When the ideas for the work are settled, she makes a list of all the materials and resources that will be needed. This includes things like who will cut and collect the treated plywood, and who will install the panels or large artworks.

She also discusses potential security and safety issues with appropriate security staff.

“While the materials are being authorised and sourced by prison managers, the prison artists can start working on the project preparing conceptual drawings.”

For longer-term projects, it’s useful to keep revising and reviewing the initial report, Corina says.

“Regular meetings with the prison artists involved in the project keep it on track. Because prisoners may leave the unit before their art is completed, I like to review and go over the concepts and so on with any new artists engaged in the project.”


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