Marg McCullough: art in Invercargill Prison

18 April 2011

"Art is a wonderful medium of change for some prisoners. It's a skill, a hobby or even a career they can take with them when they are released," says Marg McCullough, Programmes Co-ordinator at Invercargill Prison since 2002.

Over the 20 hours allocated for the job, Marg co-ordinates the various programmes; finds out what activities the prisoners would like to do; and, where feasible, develops them.

Marg says an art programme has always been offered at Invercargill Prison, including classes in carving, wood burning, drawing, painting and papier mâché.

“Until 2006, we had a very good art tutor who took the classes but over the years, the budget has decreased and so I’ve supervised the classes,” Marg explains.

“I don’t have the skills that an artist has but I can show the men how to use the tools. Then I ask the more experienced men to mentor the new people coming into the programme. They enjoy doing that and there’s a certain pride in passing on what they know.”

Insufficient resources

Since the beginning of the year, the art programme has been “on hold” because of insufficient resources. Marg has been too busy running national programmes such as foundation skills, parenting and life skills, employment skills and unit standards.

However, she is looking forward to a new staff member starting in a part-time role at Invercargill Prison. Part of the role is to supervise and teach the art classes.

“Having an artist as a tutor, with the links and knowledge they bring with them, is really valuable,” she says.

Over the years, Marg has built relationships with groups and organisations in Invercargill (e.g. marae, budgeting services) to engage them in the rehabilitative process and support the programmes.

Links with the Murihiku Marae

An example of the importance of this community engagement was seen earlier this year when a prisoner was released. He’d done the prison’s tikanga programme and the links with the Murihiku Marae meant that on release, he was able to use the marae’s carving room to continue his carving.

Invercargill Prison is low-to-medium security and has approximately 150 prisoners – 30% of whom are Māori. The main criterion to participate in any of the art classes is motivation. Anyone who is an IDU (identified drug user) is not eligible.
Marg says there are usually around 15 prisoners participating in Invercargill Prison’s art programme although there are always more wanting to participate. The programme runs for four hours a week over the two units. It is sometimes possible for a prisoner to spend additional hours on his art if he is committed.

Weekly culture classes

The prison also offers a weekly culture class, run by Ricky Cherrington, a kaumatua at Southland Institute of Technology.

Marg would like to double the amount of time available for art classes and also run four or six-hour workshops with an artist tutor.

“I’ve seen the way that art can open up new worlds for many men,” she says. “With the right art tutors, prisoners can learn so many skills: things like problem-solving, planning, communicating and being positive.”


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