Sense of community at InsideOut opening
23 April 2012
By the Hon. Dr Pita R Sharples, Associate Minister of Corrections
It was a real pleasure to open the third annual InsideOut exhibition at the Mairangi Arts Centre last month, showcasing artworks created by prisoners in Northland Regional Corrections Facility in Ngawha and Auckland Prison.
The opening itself demonstrated a sense of community and support for prisoners, and the efforts a whole lot of people have made to help prisoners to help themselves to reintegrate with their families and communities after they leave prison. I just wished there were some media in attendance.
About 20 prisoners displayed their artworks, which is more than last year. The sense I get is that each time this exhibition has occurred, more prisoners become involved with the Art in Prisons Programme, which sees practising artists teaching art skills and encouraging prisoners to express themselves through art.
Art is a form of expression; it has the power to give prisoners a voice. Many prisoners find it difficult to express themselves through language for a variety of reasons. I have been told that many of the prisoners worked on their items all year, and the works are clearly of a high standard.
By viewing the prisoners’ artwork we are seeing a part of their healing process. Stories can be found everywhere about prisoners who have looked into themselves through art, and learned about their history, their current situation and their possible future.
The fact of the matter is that prison can be a lonely place but art activities can help prisoners use their time constructively. Prisoners don’t have the creative stimuli that other artists do but what they do have is plenty of time. They may see the world through a prison window but their works have real depth. Talent has truly been unleashed through the Art in Prisons Programme.
Art teaches people more than just creative skills – it can challenge people to communicate, work together, solve problems and achieve goals. It can produce both short and long-term benefits for prisoners. Many of the prisoners involved may have never felt pride before, and now they can share the results of their endeavours, gaining increased self-esteem and a serious sense of accomplishment. Over 25 years I have seen how tikanga Māori have opened up new horizons of understanding for many prisoners.
Ensuring prisoners have real assistance to become productive members of society is vital for their successful return to kainga and whanaunga. The Department of Correction’s goal is to reduce re-offending and it is clear that art can be a very effective tool in the rehabilitative process.
Victims haven’t been forgotten in this exhibition either. The prisoners involved with the exhibition chose Victim Support as the charity for the proceeds from sales to go to. Surely that says something about how art in prisons might have influenced their thinking.
Members of the public tend to be very interested in prisoner art. While I think we would all like to see fewer prisoners, there is something about life “inside the wire” that people find intriguing. Around 1500 people are expected to view the exhibition, and in the past two years about 70% of the paintings have sold.
This collaboration – between a local art gallery and prisons, and prisoners and tutors – is something to be really proud of. I am thrilled to have been a part of it.