A new exhibition space in Ara Poutama Aotearoa Department of Corrections’ refurbished national office in Wellington provides an opportunity for prisoners to showcase their art in a professional setting and supports their study through The Learning Connexion.
Sharon Hall, who has been managing the prison art and creativity programme at The Learning Connexion for the past 16 years, was contracted by Ara Poutama Aotearoa in October 2020 to set up an exhibition space in the reception area.
This rotational space opened its first exhibition, celebrating Matariki, in August and will run until the end of November. It includes 20 works on the theme of Matariki and what it means to the artists.
All the artists in the exhibition are studying through The Learning Connexion, which offers distance learning in 14 prison sites around the country.
“We sent out a brief and a wooden panel in the shape of a manu tukutuku – a kite – to 50 students,” Sharon says. “In the end, we chose 20 works from each of the 14 sites.
“The work is incredible. I’m always amazed at the level of skill and originality, and the artists’ ability to dive deep into their own ideas of Matariki and new beginnings, expressing what that means to them through their art.
“They are also very resourceful. For example, one artist has used finely woven paper to create his kite.”
The Learning Connexion is an arts and creativity tertiary institution based in Taita in the Hutt Valley. Its prison programme was set up in 2005 as a pilot with five women in Arohata Women’s Prison.
Studying towards an art and creativity certificate or diploma
Now, there are approximately 120 students across the prisons studying towards an art and creativity certificate or diploma. Some students also continue their studies after they are released from prison.
Anyone can study at The Learning Connexion, which offers a range of tertiary-level, NZQA-approved courses. Some students attend classes at the Taita campus while others take part in its distance-learning courses.
Sharon says that preparing work and presenting it in an exhibition is an important part of their study requirements. The opportunity to present work in a professional setting such as that in the Corrections national office is one of the benefits of this initiative.
“At each level of qualifications, there are certain presentation conditions the students need to meet: things like meeting the brief, preparing for the exhibition, dealing with the selection process and presenting to a high standard,” Sharon says.
“Although The Learning Connexion has regular exhibitions, this opportunity is important because it’s been endorsed by the Department and enhances the mana of the selected artists.”
Sharon says the exhibition space is a way for Corrections staff to connect to the various prison sites and appreciate the quality of work.
It’s also an opportunity for Corrections’ stakeholders, visitors and the public to see the prisoners’ artistic skills and gain insights into the value of art as a tool to help the rehabilitative process.
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