CIM DAY 1: Excerpts from Transcript

9:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m.

 

The project starts with 12 participants.

 

Danielle Yellen, intern, passes out photo/video disclosure forms. Annie Buckley (lead facilitator) introduces Peter Merts, photographer, and Mary Beth Barber, Advisory Council member.

 

Mary Beth: “You are creating opportunities for yourself and for others because of the example you are setting by participating in the Prison Arts Collective.”

 

Peter discusses the photo and video he, Ashley, and Danielle will be taking. Annie explains that the participants had to apply for the spots in this workshop and that they were selected based on what they wrote and the art experiences they bring.

Annie asks class to identify whether they come to the project as musicians (5 participants raise their hands), and writers (3), visual art (the majority raise hands) and performance art or theater (several). Many of the group raise their hands multiple times demonstrating that they have experience with different art disciplines.

 

Annie:
 In this workshop we are going to take all of our cumulative skills and create
something together that’s bigger than anything we could make on our own.
We will figure it out together.

 

The teaching team reviews the schedule for the day with the class, which includes showing examples of art and paper building techniques.

 

Guest artist and co-facilitator,

Phung Huynh:
I want us to get ideas about working together with many different elements.

 

[Phung shows examples of Thai shadow puppets, Annie passes out sketchbooks to promote note taking and recording of ideas, participants are surprised and excited about the new sketchbooks.]

 

Phung presents Thai shadow puppets as an example of an art form that is interdisciplinary and can involve music, storytelling, art, and performance. 

 

Many participants are obviously inspired by the idea of shadow puppets and are already taking notes. It is exciting to see that many ideas are already being generated from this inspiration. 

 

Annie:
We usually have our own ideas, but this time we are working together to come up
with a project that everyone agrees upon.

 

Annie explains that the end result and progress leading up to it will be compiled to create an online exhibition for family and friends to see. The participants seem to be very excited about the prospect of sharing their work with a wider audience.

 

She shares examples of contemporary art that the team chose to share for ideas of approaches to art that could work in this context: mobiles, paper stages, structures made from small parts. Images include art from other prisons and professional artists. 

 

Annie encourages everyone to think of ideas for next week and to resist the temptation to settle on one idea but to bring multiple perspectives and possibilities to the group next week.

 

A lot of the participants are taking notes and all are very engaged. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I entered the prison but I am beyond impressed. The amount of art knowledge and passion for art in these guys is astounding. They all speak with eloquence and in a professional manner. They have respect for each other and for the instructors. I am so excited to see what they come up with next week for ideas; having participants that specialize in different fields of art created endless possibilities. 

 

12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

 

[Annie, Daniella, Peter, and Mary Beth depart to the women’s prison. Christina (teaching artist) and I resume with the group to follow up on the morning session. We have 13 participants. We pass out the reflection sheets and participants complete them. 

 

[Following are some of the representative responses from the written reflections.]

 

Question:
What do you care about? What really matters to you, in your life and in society?

 

Answer:
Joy, peace, empathy, kindness,
open-mindedness, unity and sanity. These are things
that are really important to me in my personal life.
These things I wish to cultivate in myself, things I would
like to see in others and values I would like to see in the world. Lyle

 

A. My spirituality, growing and maturing my spirit. To become my true self. The best person I can be. Sharing my experiences and talents to help others grow spiritually to become the best person they can be.

—John 

 

A. I really care about family and friends and supporting and encouraging on another. I care about those who are struggling emotionally or psychologically as well as the under privileged. Reaching out to those who need love and understanding. I care about community building, helping others find and reach their true potential is a beautiful thing.

—Stan 

 

A. One thing among many that I care about is that everybody should have opportunity to express themselves. This means that the chance is available at a convenient time, the effort is completed and delivered in a timely manner. But it also means that others more aggressive, more boisterous, more favored allow each full consideration, that they don’t hog the show. Also, those less skillful in expression should be encouraged, helped, and assisted as much as possible by all involved.

—Duane 

Question:
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be? Why?
How would you change it?

 

A. I would change hate. If you think about it that four letter word carries a lot of weight. It could be the difference of life or death for no reason whatsoever. So, hate I would try and change. We need less of it than what there is already, now to deal with it. — Jorge 

 

A. I would like to change the way we use our resources in this world, so we can make a better place for our kids and our kids’ kids. 

—Jason 

 

A. I would get rid of drugs and alcohol because they destroy so many lives. I would ban them. — Angel 

 

A. Hate! I hate you because I don’t understand you, I hate you because we are different. Hate is just so destructive in this world, but one gets absolutely nothing out of it except pain, loss, destruction and that can’t be good. I can try to change it by changing the way I treat people. It all starts with oneself, if I can replace hate with love in everybody we will be much better off. — Lee 

 

Answer: 
I would like to change the misconception of criminal behavior.
Criminal behavior is perceived as an irreversible thought process or social dysfunction. It is, in fact, a negative thought process and social
dysfunction, but it has a solution which is called healing.
My approach is related to restorative justice which focuses on
healing people from past emotional and psychological wounds that
influence the aforementioned behavior. I want to focus on the
“what happened to you?” instead of the “what is wrong with you?”
I believe art can help me accomplish this.  Ezequiel 

 

A. I would change the way we all look at others. We tend to judge them according to race, gender, age, appearance, social status and upbringing, why? It would make the world a much more loving and accepting place. How would I change it? Change from the top of our society, one person at a time, one day at a time, one moment at a time.  — John 

 

Answer: 
No more violence! No one should ever have to live in fear
or suffer in silence. I would start to change it by bringing awareness,
compassion and forgiveness. One person at a time, each on teach
one, learning how to adequately express ourselves, starting with the
arts, then verbally with each other.  Stan 

 

A. I would want people to get along, not to fight, not to wage war. War is horrible. I would teach people to protect themselves surely, but never to attack another either physically or emotionally or verbally. To help toward that end I would try to eliminate corruption, greed, and intolerance. — Duane 

 

A. Selfishness. I would try to eliminate selfishness because so much hurt, or rather all the hurt in the world even stems from selfishness and self-centered thinking. I would change it by cultivating positive traits that abolish selfishness and promote selflessness and altruism in our schools and every area of society. — Lyle 

Question:

Can art change the world? How? Should it? Why or why not?

 

A. Yes. It is transformative on a personal level. It has given me personal freedom, opened my eyes, expanded my ways of thinking and given me a way to be myself, especially here in prison. If art can do that for me, art can do it for anybody. It is not a question if art should because art by itself does not change anyone, but it is the personal reception of the beholders that change them. Art should be made freely available to the whole world, so people can choose to let it change them.  — Lyle 

 

A. Yes, art makes you stop and think. To look at things through another’s eyes. Appreciate beauty, appreciate talent and recognize someone’s vision. Yes, it should. Why? Because the world is in need of change. Change for the better, change for humanity. — John 

 

A. Yes. It provokes and inspires “out-of-the-box” thinking while challenging our opinions and perspectives. Yes. It should because it is a reflection of our inner most being, a moment of truth for what really matters, our ideals and values. — Johnny 

 

A. By valuing one another more. Yes, by bringing awareness to issues relating to the suffering, addictions, poverty, hunger, violence by teaching others to express themselves. Yes, art should be the start of changing the world because we are growing in population, and it appears that things are getting worse, we all need to do our part to change the direction of humanity, toward happy, healthy lifestyles. 

— Stan

 

A. Yes, it can, expressing oneself is what we all want to do. We all want to feel like we have a voice and we all do. Art has unlimited feeling, it can make someone feel what they want to feel thus helping change the world their own way for the better of everybody. 

— Jorge

 

In class, the questions are reviewed and discussed. We arrive at the final question.

 
Question:
Can art change the world?
 
[Everyone says yes!]

 

[At this point we are getting close to the end of the class, Christina and I pass out paper and glue sticks for paper building techniques and we ask everyone to try and build something or multiple things with a single sheet of 8x12 paper. Christina demonstrates paper rolling, crimping, and folding techniques. Many of the participants already know paper building techniques and begin building objects.]

 

[Class is over we clean up and say our goodbyes]

 

Personal thoughts…I enjoy listening to the participants talk about their own beliefs and stances on social issues. Each of them has found a way to better himself and to promote personal growth through art and I am humbled to take part in it. I was extremely impressed with what some of the participants were able to create out of paper in a short amount of time. One participant created a self-supporting abstract looking sculpture, while one made a chair, and another a milk carton. It only makes me more enthusiastic about the collaborative project. I am looking forward to our next class!

This project is generously funded by a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works Grant in the category of Multidisciplinary and Presenting — Additional support comes from Arts in Corrections, an initiative of the California Arts Council and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This project would not be possible without the support of the Department of Art, the College of Arts and Letters, and Research and Sponsored Programs at CSUSB. Accounts and administrative services were provided by the University Enterprises Corporation in association with CSUSB

About Us

The Prison Arts Collective works to expand access to the transformative power of the arts through collaboration and mutual learning that supports the development of self-expression, reflection, communication, and empathy through providing multidisciplinary arts programming in correctional institutions.

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