At the recent Arts in Corrections South Island Network hui in Christchurch, we had an amazing presentation about the importance of arts and education in Corrections from Dr Helen Farley, recently appointed Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at The University of Canterbury.

Dr Farley’s presentation was informed by the blog she wrote for us in June, where she said: “I believe that arts in our prisons can help reach those people who education can’t reach for whatever reason and help begin the healing. I believe with my whole heart that engaging people with the arts can help turn their lives around.”

Thank you, Helen, for sharing your knowledge and insights at the Network meeting, and for your ongoing commitment to advocating for the transformative power of the arts and education.

I also discussed Arts Access Aotearoa’s four arts fellowships, launched at the beginning of August and including the Whakahoa Kaitoi i Te Ara Poutama Arts in Corrections Artist Fellowship. You can read more about the Arts in Corrections fellowship 

Developing an arts practice with support of mentor

This $10,000 fellowship supports an artist who is/has been in the criminal justice system and is living in the community to develop their arts practice with the support of an arts mentor.

There are former prisoners who were involved in Arts in Corrections programmes and have been released into the community with very few opportunities to further their practice.

This fellowship is an important first step, acknowledging the need for more support and arts opportunities for people who have been in the criminal justice system to develop their arts practice, and build networks and exposure.

The requirement of a mentor will support the recipient to develop their ideas, build networks with other artists in the field, and strengthen their career pathways. We hope this fellowship will offer the recipient the space to realise some of their artistic goals, supported by Arts Access Aotearoa and the mentor.

Reflecting a number of Arts in Corrections firsts

This fellowship is a first and it reflects a number of Arts in Corrections firsts for Ara Poutama Aotearoa in recent years.

The refurbishment of its national office in Wellington’s Mayfair House included the commissioning of a number of prison artworks, showcasing a range of large-scale sculptures and artworks throughout the office. The refurbishment also included its first gallery in the reception area, dedicated to displaying prisoner artworks.

In 2020, Ara Poutama Aotearoa launched Project Auaha and encouraged prisoner artists and writers across Aotearoa to submit works for a publication. Called He Ngākau Whakaiti, this book showcases the artistic talent and potential existing within our prisons.

The Arts in Corrections literature review we conducted in 2021 examines the benefits that accrue from the delivery of arts programmes in criminal justice settings. These benefits can be monetised to show a return on investment of perhaps four times the cost of an arts programme intervention. It also considers the value of a comprehensive national framework for Arts in Corrections and the Department is making progress on this.

These various events and initiatives paint a positive picture despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Working hard to re-activate all the programmes

As Arts in Corrections champion Beth Hill says in Opening up to more arts programming in prisons, everyone at Northland Region Corrections Facility is working hard to re-activate all the programmes it was delivering pre-COVID. But after more than two years, people seem to be “less resilient, less buoyant, more vulnerable and pretty tired”.

I’ve been the Arts in Corrections Advisor for almost four years, and I have noticed that some staff who weren’t particularly interested about arts programmes are now open and often excited when I talk to them about the importance of arts and cultural programming.

I was excited to watch a video and read the story, Revival of the whakairo whare at Auckland Prison. This project has been led by prisoner *Wiremu (not his real name) as lead carver, whakairo rakau tutor and mentor, and supported by staff and other prisoners.

As Vikki Demant, Cultural Consultant at Auckland Prison says, “The men’s resourcefulness and initiative in getting the whare up and running. and completing projects despite the limitations that Covid-19 have placed on our activities, is incredible.”

Creative Arts and Cultural Wellbeing Prison Initiative

A major initiative we discussed at the Arts in Corrections South Island Network hui is the Department’s three-year Creative Arts and Cultural Wellbeing Prison Initiative, funded by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

This will increase the number of Arts in Corrections programmes by funding the development and delivery of ten or more Arts in Corrections initiatives in prisons across Aotearoa. This three-year investment is a great way to ignite Arts in Corrections initiatives jeopardised by COVID-19 restrictions.

I would like to acknowledge all the hard work involved in putting this fund together, including Arts in Corrections Network members who assisted with consultation.

The funding criteria for the funding places a huge emphasis on evaluation, and on Māori and Pacific-led initiatives. This emphasis excites me because currently only 10% of the Arts in Corrections programmes that Arts Access Aotearoa knows about serve Māori and Pacific prisoners. This does not reflect the needs of the prison population and it’s an imbalance that this funding will hopefully address.

Fellowship reflects Arts in Corrections firsts


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