Inspiring results from Scottish initiative

20 June 2011

Evaluation of a major prison arts initiative in Scotland has found clear evidence of improved literacy skills, physical and mental wellbeing, better relationships with family, peers and the community, and improvements in attitudes and behaviours that lead to offending.

Inspiring Change was an ambitious NZ$825,000 programme of arts interventions in five Scottish prisons throughout 2010. Creative Scotland was the principal sponsor, and the initiative was co-ordinated by Motherwell College and the Learning Centre in partnership with the Scottish Prison Service and seven national arts organisations.

The authors of the final 109-page evaluation report described the creative ambition of Inspiring Change as “extraordinary”. The artistic outputs, delivered through six projects, were impressive, and included concerts, plays, recordings, exhibitions, a graphic novel and even a fully-staged opera.

“We know of no other prison programme anywhere in the world that has attempted a coordinated and systematic set of interventions and creative outputs across such a range of art forms and media.”

More than 230 prisoners were involved throughout the year.

Personal challenges valued

A strong theme to emerge was the enormous value placed by the participants on the opportunity to work with professional artists and musicians. Participants also seemed to value the personal challenges of the creative, artistic process. Many mentioned discovering their own abilities and their appreciation of having them valued.

The creative process within the arts sessions was a key part of the work, and the arts practitioners were often surprised and impressed by the high level of interest, engagement, concentration, enthusiasm and commitment of participants.

Another theme to emerge was the pride in creating a high-level artistic product that could be shared with others, and the exhilaration felt from the performance that concluded some projects. One inevitable consequence of such powerful performance experiences was the disappointment felt by the participants after the performance was over.

Not all artistic experiences were positive. Some participants chose to withdraw from the projects, and many arts practitioners expressed their frustrations with certain aspects of the work.

“What seemed to be clear across all projects, though, was that the extraordinary and challenging nature of the artistic process, leading to a final high-quality artistic product, was both powerful and rewarding for all concerned.”

Commitment from prison managers

Senior management staff were interviewed in each of the five prisons before and after the arts projects.

“We found clear expressions of commitment to Inspiring Change from managers. In some instances this went beyond the general Scottish Prison Service mandate to deliver rehabilitative services towards a deeper personal commitment to arts activities on the part of some staff.”

Encouraged to reflect

Many participants were encouraged to reflect on the impact of their offending and imprisonment on their families. Performing or exhibiting their work – and better aspects of themselves – to and for their families was very important to them.

Some acquired skills they felt they could use for work or develop further in training. Others identified life skills they had developed, and some planned to develop new and more positive social networks linked to arts organisations or activities in the community.

The report authors recommended that future arts interventions in prisons emphasise:
•    the high-level, professional nature of the work
•    the unique value of contributions by external arts organisations
•    the intense benefits of a final artistic product or performance that can be shared with family, friends and guests
•    the importance of the positive and creative nature of the process, including self-expression, real skill acquisition and positive social interactions
•    the crucial importance of budgeted communication and planning sessions between organisations
•    the need to schedule the final performance, exhibition or event several weeks before the end of the project.

For an extended summary of the Inspiring Change report.


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