The recent COVID-19 community outbreak in Auckland has served as a harsh reminder that we are still living during a global pandemic as we try to continue with business as usual.

A large-model marae presented to a local schoolI had planned to visit Hawkes Bay Regional Prison to meet acting Prison Director Leonie Aben and acting Assistant Prison Director Tony Denton. We were invited to attend the mihi whakatau and the gifting of a large-model marae to a local school.

Arts Access Aotearoa supported the return visit of Rob Mokaraka’s play Shot Bro: Confessions of a Depressed Bullet to Rimutaka Prison, also this month, and were looking forward to seeing his performance and its impact on the men.

Unfortunately, the shift to COVID-19 alert level 2 meant that we were unable to attend either of the prisons.

Although the visits were postponed, we hope to visit Hawkes Bay soon and also see Shot Bro. You can read about Rob Mokaraka’s journey, and how the play takes its audiences deep and wide into big issues of mental health and wellbeing.

You can also read about Leonie Aben and her conviction that the arts have an important part to play in the rehabilitation process.

Planning an exhibition

Are you planning a prison arts exhibition at the prison site? Or even in the community? Over the past two months, I’ve noticed a rise in requests for advice about prison arts exhibitions. I thought it would help to offer some tips and resources for you to plan your next prison arts exhibition.

Chris Ulutupu in a panel discussion at the Huakina exhibitionA handy resource is the Prison arts exhibition guidelines on the Arts Access Aotearoa website. This includes handy tips about starting an exhibition either in the prison or in the community. Have a look through the resource and please contact me if you have any questions.

Hosting a prison arts exhibition is beneficial because it helps Ara Poutama Department of Corrections to build community relationships. These partnerships, if fostered and developed, can lead to pathway opportunities for the prison artists.

It also enhances relationships between prisoners and prison staff, creating a positive working environment. This is explained in Dr Larry Brewster’s 2012 research report Qualitative Study of the California Arts-in-Corrections: A Case Study in Correctional Arts Research, published in the Journal of Prison Education and Re-entry. Dr Brewster’s most recent journal article was mentioned in an update in the June 2020 e-newsletter.

There have been some successful examples of prison arts exhibitions over the past year:

  • From The Inside: Mai i Roto, an exhibition at Taupō Museum in collaboration with artists from Tongariro Prison.
  • The Learning Connexion’s Huakina at Whirinaki Expressions Gallery in Upper Hutt.

Professionalisation of our sector: The Prison arts exhibition guidelines was created in 2017. There are two main points that I think could be added to the resource and are worth discussing.

Is participation in an exhibition the primary outcome? Every year I am amazed by the range of talent and innovation of prison art programmes displayed at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards. The level of expertise continues to grow each year.

So is professionalising the work of prison artists and the members of the Arts in Corrections Network a viable option?

Richard Benge and Chris Ulutupu, Arts Access Aotearoa with Kerence Stephen at the 2019 Taupo Museum exhibitionI have been working with the project team at the Department’s National Office, who are overseeing the refurbishment of their offices in Mayfair House. They are interested in developing pathways for prison artists by exhibiting some of their work in areas of the new office space.

During my first meeting with the team, they asked about the Koestler Trust and whether Aotearoa had something similar. The Koestler Trust has an annual prison arts competition, which includes prize money. There is a dedicated gallery for prison arts exhibitions and they also sell prison artworks on behalf of the artist.

Unfortunately, no, we don’t have a similar organisation in New Zealand but if we did, it would be a great way to help build pathways for prison artists.

It’s good to dream big and have a goal to strive for.

Don’t be afraid to talk about money: It can be awkward to discuss money upfront, especially in the arts sector. When planning your next prison art exhibition, I advise you to create a realistic budget of the entire project from the first initial meeting to the de-installation of the works.

Artwork on display in the Taupo Museum exhibitionThis way, you can be realistic about your goals, especially if you have significant works from prisons in rural areas. Anything more substantial than two metres long is oversized and delivery gets expensive after that.

Once you have made a breakdown of your costs, then you can make an accurate assessment of the viability of the project.

If you are volunteering your hours on the prison art exhibition, you could think about ways to pay yourself and your collaborators. There is funding available through Creative New Zealand and various funding trusts. That can help ensure you don’t have to starve just because you want to do some good.

Please contact the Arts in Corrections Advisor if you want advice on funding and if you are planning a prison art exhibition. Email or call 04 802 4349.


Planning a prison art exhibition


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